Cleaning up Waltham Forest

The story of how one small local organisation launched a borough-wide campaign to tackle litter and fly-tipping

Fly tipping

A double bed dumped in the street

Litter, dog mess, spittle, fly-tips. You see it every day on your way to your place of work, when you’re out shopping, or taking the kids to school.

You’ll see it always in the same places too. Beside lampposts, by street corners, beside street refuse bins or in some lane or alleyway.

The little supermarket plastic bag; the larger black bin bags, often ripped apart by foxes during the night and the mess strewn all over the street; the mattresses, fridges, discarded boxes and other detritus.

It’s mostly done at night, because the people doing it know it’s wrong and don’t want to be seen.

Litter Action Waltham Forest is a campaigning and activist organisation set up several years ago to encourage our local council to ‘up its game’ and eradicate the litter and fly-tipping problem in our borough.

Waltham Forest Council (much like every other local authority in London) has no strategic plan to tackle the problem, and that is why you will see the same grot-spots over and over again.

According to its own figures the council spends £5million each year on collecting our household waste and bewteen £750,000 and £1.5m clearing up fly tips, yet it only takes in a measly few thousand pounds in fines.

Exasperated by the situation Litter Action Waltham Forest decided to tackle the issue by holding meetings with various councillors, the council leader, and council officers. We even developed a draft strategy in the hope of kick-starting some action plans to try to resolve the problem.

It wasn’t until we discovered two excellent reporting apps for mobile phones LitterGram and Love Clean Streets that we began to affect change.

These apps enabled our small organisation to photograph and report fly tips in the same instant. This has resulted in over 800 fly tips being reported to the council since October last year. The reports also often go viral on Twitter.

Worst of all is that the majority of these reports are of the same regular daily grot spots in just a small number of streets.

But our endeavour is beginning to make a difference. Responding to public pressure, the council is responding and starting to introduce new anti-litter measures, albeit gradually.

New ‘no dumping’ stencils have been painted on pavements at regular grot spots, culprits who have been identified have been issued with notices and fines, and ‘action days’ have been established whereby a team from a local neighbourhood concentrate on a specific area in an all-day blitz.

Litter

Litter in Hatherley Road, Walthamstow

These measures, while welcome, only go so far. They won’t solve the problem in the long term, and Litter Action Waltham Forest feels we still need a strategic vision and long-term strategy to incorporate a zero-tolerance approach, much greater enforcement, an education plan, and greater community involvement.

Basically, we need a culture change.

In the meantime, residents such as you can play a major part in influencing that change and improving where you live by simply downloading on to your smartphone either of the aforementioned apps. Take a photo of a fly tip, graffiti, littered area or dog mess, and it will go immediately to the local council and flag up the incident to be dealt with.

Go on, try it, and you’ll feel good afterwards.

 

The council view on fly-tipping

In just one month after new powers were introduced by government to crack down on fly-tippers Waltham Forest Council issued 34 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) and fines totalling £13,600.

Local authorities in England and Wales now have the power to issue FPNs carrying a fine of up to £400 to anyone caught fly-tipping, without having to resort to court action which can often be a more lengthy and costly process.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment, said: “We led the lobby of parliament for the introduction of FPNs for fly-tipping, and we are already putting this new power to good use.

“The majority of fly-tips are spur-of-the-moment criminal acts, so it’s great to be able to punish those responsible on the spot.

“The fine will allow us to cover collection and disposal costs for fly-tips, meaning that taxpayers will not be left footing the bill for someone else’s criminal actions.

“We’re also not taking the option to issue a lower fine for fly-tipping, so anyone we catch can expect to be hit for the full £400.”

If fines are not paid in time then the council warns it will take further action which could result in prosecution in court. Last year the authority also became one of the first in London to utilise new powers allowing them to crush vehicles that had been seized after being used for fly-tipping.

The council’s neighbourhoods team carries out regular patrols for fly-tipping, and says it will use all of the powers at its disposal, including CCTV footage and sharing intelligence with neighbouring boroughs, to track down and punish those responsible.


To contact Litter Action Waltham Forest:

Email litteractionwalthamforest@gmail.com

Twitter @litteractionwf

Fly-tipping can be reported to the council via its website:

Visit www.walthamforest.gov.uk/content/neighbourhoods