The emotional impact of fly-tipping

By - Wednesday 22nd March, 2017

The fly-tipping blame game is fun for politicians but misery for residents

Photo author’s own

I moved to West Croydon ten weeks after it was hit by the 2011 riots. Conflicted though my feelings on gentrification are, I know I’m playing a part in it. Still, whatever the area might one day become, I felt positively about my new home just as it was – a good choice for price, convenience and transport links. I could also see that it was dirty, but the Westfield (coming soon, so they said back then, and just down the road) was all set to sort it out.

That was six years ago.

In many ways, they’ve been happy years. But I want to leave West Croydon now. Falling out of love happens gradually then suddenly, and at the end you decide to get out for reasons that were obvious from the start. Quite frankly, the place is a tip, and what’s obvious is that nothing will be done about it.

We live in the mess but we don’t make the mess, so we’re angry

Broad Green, where I live, is not just a tip, of course. It’s an area of considerable history, with notable landmarks. I’m involved with a community project, Big Local Broad Green, looking into the idea of creating a heritage trail here. Fresh food is available in abundance. My neighbours are nice. There’s the Broad Green Residents’ Association in which people engage, reach out to others and seek to make a difference. I think that politicians care too, or at least some of them do. But none of this changes the fact that the pavements we walk every day are disgustingly dirty, clogged with abandoned furniture and frequently strewn with filth. It seems that nothing changes it.

Photo author’s own.

I attended the inaugural meeting of the resident-run, non-partisan Campaign For A Cleaner and More Beautiful Croydon, to which its founders invited Councillor Stuart Collins, known on Twitter as @cleanstreetstu – and he turned up. The meeting began with some anger: since we live in the mess but we don’t make the mess, this response is understandable. Then, knowing that finger-pointing solves nothing and that if a thing has been tried and has failed, doing more of it just won’t work, the community started to think outside the box.

How about providing information about mattress disposal at mattress shops? (For a while I engaged in a lively exchange of tweets with an account called @MattressWatch – it’s clear that this wretched problem is bigger than west and north Croydon.) What about changing street furniture and lay-out to encourage better behaviour around the disposal of waste? It was a very constructive discussion. There’s no lack of ideas to address the problems we face.

As a frequent app user, I know that action gets taken fast

With over 150 fly-tipping prosecutions to the previous administration’s zero, I’ve concluded that Labour in Croydon cares about litter more than the Tories do. Labour has also created the My Croydon app, through which tips can be reported. As a frequent app user, I know that action gets taken, and fast. But then there’s another problem: the tips are removed so promptly that some have appeared to conclude that dumping their trash in certain places is a legitimate way to get it cleared. Hotspots have developed. It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

Those who blame others (others with far less of everything than they have themselves) will never acknowledge one thing: that if you are very poor, your life can become such a grind that you don’t give a damn about litter. The morale of marginalised people can fall so low that I’m put in mind of the poet Sylvia Plath, suffering from deep depression: ‘The reason I hadn’t washed my clothes or my hair was because it seemed so silly… It made me tired just to think of it”.

Even if crumpled and smelly, Plath is a famous figure of literature. The complex and educated despair she represents is met with compassion. Not so the mess in our streets. But I believe the same tiredness hangs over Broad Green. Plath would understand that the bursting bin bags that lie in my road, the stinking spilled refuse of half-gnawed chicken bones and streaky nappies, the piss-stained mattresses and the grease-caked black oven that hadn’t been cleaned in this century before finding its way to the pavement outside my house are caused by the feeling that life is just too hard to do anything about them.

A second kind of tipper, of course, is the one who drives into the area, often at night, and dumps large items from vans, frequently including unwanted and broken furniture. This type more often gets spotted and – these days – prosecuted.

Those gleeful, day-tripping political tweeters made me feel ill

Photo author’s own.

But whatever its causes, whatever the solutions might be, month after month and year after year, the state of the place has worn me down. My children are sick and tired of it. “You keep saying Croydon’s not a shitheap, mum, but our part sort of is, isn’t it?”. When I open our living room curtains and look outside, I don’t have an answer to that any more.

Finally, one Saturday in February, we were subjected to the tweeted thoughts of a bunch of ‘community’ litter pickers in my area. Local politicians responding to tips by delightedly nose-thumbing opponents isn’t unusual, but on this particular day, they could barely conceal their excitement as they made their way from pavement dump to flytip to litter-strewn alleyway. What a great chance to have a go!

Those gleeful, day-tripping political tweeters made me feel ill. Fly-tipping isn’t some Katharine Street roust-about – it diminishes the lives of many and makes us miserable. How dare they respond to it like this? I realised, my rage increasing with every glance at my phone, that my tightly-clenched stomach and fists were a sign that change is needed. It’s starting to seem easier to remove my family from these rubbish-strewn streets than to actually remove the rubbish.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Michael Swadling

    Whilst I agree we should keep reporting and fighting littering and fly tipping, this is an expect consequence of:
    · Landfill taxes impacting business waste.
    · Fortnightly bin collection for domestic rubbish.
    · Restricting access to council tips soon to need ID to register each vehicle you use.

    Many of these issues lie with central government, but if we keep making it more difficult to dispose of waste we can’t be surprised when more rubbish is dumped on our streets.

  • Anne Giles

    Fortnightly bin collection is fine if you recycle properly. We have a medium sized wheelie bin and we squash the black bags before putting them in. We have two blue boxes for paper and two green boxes. We squash all cans and plastic bottles as well. The food caddy is never that full because we don’t throw food away. My husband takes left overs to eat for his lunch at work and I do likewise at home. The idea of ID for the council tips is a good idea, as it means less queuing and it stops people who don’t live in the area from using our council tips rather than the ones in their own area.

    • Michael Swadling

      Anne – I’m pleased this all works well for you, but if you have limited time, a big family and maybe don’t own a car but borrow / hire etc. then this doesn’t work. It can’t be a surprise that making disposing of waste more difficult leads to more illegal disposal of waste.

      This isn’t said to excuse people who fly tip,
      but without looking at these issues (and to be fair I’m not sure the council
      alone can) you are only dealing with the symptoms.

      • lizsheppardjourno

        I agree with Michael’s points, but I’m reluctant to get drawn into this level of detail. We’ve had all these conversations before.

        My purpose in writing the piece was to speak for the victims of both the problem itself and of the failure of *anyone* to address the problem.

        I’ve shared the piece on Facebook and on my page are already comments describing similar issues in the west country and in Scotland. Croydon’s not unique. We need to understand why and how so many people’s connection with the place they live has become so broken. That is the real cause.

      • Ian Marvin

        There is an economical large item collection provided by the council. I suggested that this is publicised on the envelopes used to send out Council Tax bills when a new payer moves in. Apparently this is going to happen.

  • Ian Marvin

    Until we focus on building stable communities this will persist. Most people want to settle down and not have to move every 6 months to a year as a result of ever rising rents in the private rental sector. This is a matter for national housing policy. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the housing minister involved in the stage managed exercise you mentioned Liz?

    By the way, weekly landfill collection won’t help with the dumping of mattresses and so forth. These mattresses by the way are a direct result of the rental churn, either dumped by the incoming tenant or landlord.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      The housing minister may well have been – I could not possibly comment. I could also have named the tweeters, but then I’d be another jeering name-caller more interested in making a cheap point than thinking.

      Mattresses and furniture are all rental churn, absolutely. West Croydon is being increasingly destabilised by rent rises.

  • Mark Johnson

    Two points of information.

    1.) The following quote isn’t true the previous Conservative Council created the app. “Labour has also created the My Croydon app”.
    Please read

    2.) “150 fly-tipping prosecutions to the previous administration’s zero.” Also wrong. Please also read Unsure of exact numbers but please check your facts before you make political statements.

  • Ian Marvin

    Moving forward, we have two distinct problems here, large waste whether is it ‘traditional’ fly-tipping or from the local community and regular domestic waste. New planning applications must include a statement regarding provision for waste storage. Many existing properties do not have proper provision. It would be something of a mammoth task but why not start assessing waste storage arrangements in properties surrounding waste hotspots?

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Re regular domestic waste, this sensible suggestion will be unwelcome because it would expose the inadequacy of provision there.

      One of the reasons lots of litter blows around is that the bin lids won’t close because they are too full: this is a chronic problem in the flats where I live. Rats jump in the bins and chew the bags open (I’ve seen them. I’ve actually lifted a bin lid to put a bag in and a very lively rat sprang out). People also place sealed bags alongside the bins because they won’t fit inside and foxes shred the bags. The wind blows – and suddenly you have a litter-strewn street, even though people had put out their litter in bags.

      The organised dumping of large items (it’s always between 10/11pm and 6am) could be tackled with night patrols in problem areas, but this is extremely expensive.


    On many levels, as a society in general we need to create less waste. Less waste produced = less waste chucked on our streets however, have you tried to do a weekly shop without buying anything plastic? Or considered what items you’ve just bought aren’t even recyclable in our borough? And this is only relevant to the good people who take the time and effort to recycle in the first place.
    I’m glad that prosecutions are being made and that fly-tippers are being exposed – hopefully it will deter others.

  • Robert Ward

    Let’s take this into a different realm. You get a leaky roof and the guy who comes to fix it says it’s a difficult problem but the leak is stable.

    Another guy tells you your repair man doesn’t care, is useless, and that he can fix it. You take him on instead. He then spends your money, the leak gets worse but he keeps telling you how great he is. You complain some more and he tells you that everyone has a leaky roof so it’s not his fault.

    The first guy points out that your new guy, who you are paying to fix the problem has spent more money, made things worse and has slopey shoulders.

    And who do you complain about?

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hi Robert – and I say a plague on the pair of them. I think the leak has been caused by complex external circumstances which neither is getting to grips with. I also think they both know this really but they’re having too much fun quarrelling to care. As a person in a distressing situation, this insults me. The so-called repair guys are now part of the problem and whilst they trade insults, there’s water all over my floor :)