Tipping Point

Arriving at a rubbish facility to discover that it’s full of fly-tipped items that have no right to be there is frustrating for us boaters. Fly-tipping across our waterways has reached epic proportions. It’s time to stop the drop!

Fly tipping Fly tipping

During the coronavirus pandemic, rubbish and fly-tipping have become more of a problem than ever before, with researchers from Southampton and Portsmouth Universities discovering that reports of fly-tipping in rural areas increased by 300% during the first lockdown. Urban areas also suffered, with Wigan in Greater Manchester reporting a 51% increase during the lockdown. In the last year the Trust has seen a 68% rise in complaints and notifications of litter and fly-tipping on our network.

Extra costs

This fly-tipping is affecting us boaters. We arrive at a rubbish stop and find the bins overflowing and surrounded by fly-tipping, and we can’t dispose of our rubbish. The fly-tipping has to be cleared before the bins can be emptied, and that’s an extra call-out fee to the waste disposal people.

As you can imagine, the quantity and frequency of fly-tipping across the network is impacting on the Trust’s finances as we try to keep on top the mess. A recent call-out to clear boat fit-out rubbish dumped blocking the entrance to the bin store at Little Venice in London cost over £250 to clear. Sadly, this is not a one-off event.

Boat fitting out waste fly tipped blocking the entrance to the boater's bin store

During the pandemic, particularly at the beginning in early 2020, many council-run waste sites were closed. With everyone at home, and so many people either without jobs or furloughed, many of us began decluttering and clearing and tackling renovation projects. All well and good, but there were limited places to offload unwanted items with council tips, charity shops and re-use schemes closed.

Easy target

Whilst the Trust continued to maintain and service boater’s refuse compounds, there were fewer staff and volunteers on the ground, and our waterways and rubbish facilities became targets for fly-tippers. Most of the fly-tippers are not boaters. In some areas, van loads of rubbish have been emptied directly onto and into towpaths and the water, from embankments and bridges. In Walsall alone the Trust spent £30k on fly-tipping removal and disposal from January 2021 to early April. To put this into context, this is the same cost as replacing one our smaller lock gates or grouting a small lock chamber.

Fly tipping on a canal embankment on the Walsall Canal

Litter bins along the towpath and other footpaths also were easy targets for smaller but still inappropriate waste items such as cans of paint and small electrical applicances. With higher visitor footfall in many urban areas and so many people leaving behind takeaway drink and food packaging, even when it wouldn’t fit in the bin, it didn’t take long for the rubbish to spread. Our #PlasticsChallenge has never been so necessary to help protect our waterways. 

Just over a year from the start of the pandemic there is a legacy of rubbish and fly-tipping to tackle. Efforts to secure many compounds against fly-tippers are constantly challenged. We are having to replace the padlocks and locking systems on some heavily abused compounds, such as the one at Rickmansworth on the Grand Union Canal, on an almost weekly basis. As fast as we secure it, someone does their best to ensure it is open to everyone and anyone to dump what they like. And where these compounds are situated on third party land, the actions of the fly-tippers can result in the landowner withdrawing their permission for the facility, as happened at Greenford in London and Horton on the Kennet & Avon.

Boaters bins store overflowing with many different kinds of rubbish Boaters bins store overflowing with rubbish

Fighting back

So, what can we do about it? The Trust is fighting back. In hotspot areas such as Walsall we have operatives out for a minimum three out of five days a week clearing fly tipping. Our Heritage & Environment and Customer Operations teams are also working closely with local authorities to provide evidence of fly tippers and support with enforcement investigations. We are working actively with volunteers   and community groups, and we have campaigns such as our #PlasticsChallenge.

And how can we boaters help keep our rubbish compounds tip top bin spots, and making sure more our licence fees goes on canal maintenance instead of cleaning up fly-tipping?

  • Report problems when you see them e.g. missing lock or padlock, bins full, inappropriate items dumped.
  • Report fly-tipping – if you see it in action and can safely get a vehicle registration number or take photos, do so.
  • Put the right thing in the right bin – check what it says on the side. Domestic waste only. 
  • If the bins are full, do not leave your rubbish too. Take it with you to the next available rubbish site.
  • Never leave bags of anything on the ground next to the bin, it encourages vermin and fly-tipping, and means the contractors are unlikely to be able to empty the bin.
  • Never dump used engine oil, oil or fuel-contaminated bilge water, paint, varnish or other hazardous waste. 
  • Never dump old boat fittings and furniture or waste from fit-out or renovation projects. You will need to pay a licensed waster carrier to remove these 
  • Make your rubbish and recycling as compact as possible, collapse and fold cardboard boxes, squash plastic bottles and cans etc.
  • Reduce, re-use, re-purpose.
  • Think before you buy and choose goods with the least packaging

Thank you for helping us keep our waterways cleaner.

What to recycle in our boater waste bins What to recycle in our boater waste bins

Last date edited: 23 April 2021

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Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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