Could UK's rotting waste replace pandemic with the plague?

Rat eating from rubbish bag left in the street

As fly­tip­ping soars, the gov­ern­ment is urged to upgrade recy­cling work­ers to crit­i­cal sta­tus and reopen coun­cil tips

Moun­tains of waste are being fly-tipped in epic pro­por­tions across Britain, as warn­ings are raised that the gov­ern­ment risks replac­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic with a plague, if coun­cils keep recy­cling and waste tips shut dur­ing the lockdown.

The VPS Group have called on the gov­ern­ment to list waste dis­pos­al staff as crit­i­cal work­ers, require coun­cils to re-open their tips, and allow house­holds to include waste dis­pos­al as an essen­tial trip.

Coun­cils and local author­i­ties across the UK closed their tips and waste dis­pos­al cen­tres after gov­ern­ment advice on non-essen­tial trav­el dur­ing the Covid-19 crisis.

Ille­gal fly-tip­ping in the UK had already reached record lev­els this year, before the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic had arrived, at a rate of one dump of rub­bish occur­ring every 30 sec­onds, with over a mil­lion record­ed cas­es in 12 months.” Says James Ford, Direc­tor of Branch Oper­a­tions, VPS. Now though, with coun­cil sites closed, it’s a free-for-all, and reports are already indi­cat­ing that fig­ure has trebled.”

The fixed penal­ty fines for minor fly-tip­ping and the more sub­stan­tial inci­dents which can attract crim­i­nal records, unlim­it­ed fines and 12 months’ impris­on­ment, are not regard­ed as like­ly to impact on the prob­lem, accord­ing to VPS, who deploy one of the largest Europe-wide net­works of CCTV tow­ers to secure and pro­tect prop­er­ties and remote sites.

There’s just not enough resources avail­able to police this type of crime.” explains Mr Ford. Quite apart from the envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards, the costs to local author­i­ties and to pri­vate landown­ers of the clean-up, there is the sig­nif­i­cant­ly seri­ous risk of the spread of oth­er dis­eases, from the explo­sion in the rodent pop­u­la­tion that occurs with rot­ting waste.”

Pest-relat­ed prob­lems include bac­te­r­i­al infec­tions like Weil’s dis­ease, an infec­tion spread in the urine of rats, and can cause jaun­dice and sick­ness in humans. Mice in the UK have also been known to car­ry a new US-born virus called han­tavirus, where vic­tims can suf­fer a fever and even inter­nal bleed­ing and organ dam­age. Two years ago, an expert from the gov­ern­men­t’s Ani­mal and Plant Health Agency even warned that the bac­teri­um respon­si­ble for the Black Death, which killed 3 mil­lion peo­ple, half of the UK’s pop­u­la­tion in medieval times, could find its way back to Britain. He said black rats, the bac­teri­um’s hosts, had recent­ly reap­peared in some parts of the UK, adding The species has the poten­tial to reestab­lish large pop­u­la­tions in areas of urban decay”.

Apart from call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to re-open offi­cial waste tips, the VPS Group are also recommending:

installing wire­less remote mon­i­tored CCTV at sites reg­u­lar­ly being tar­get­ed by fly-tippers

that peo­ple caught on cam­era in the ille­gal act of fly-tip­ping should be named and shamed


In the last week, news reports include: 

300% increase in flytipping”:


fly­tip­ping at a 5‑year high”


Preston’s fly­tip­ping spi­ral­ing out of control”


Fly-tip­ping is not only unpleas­ant to see but is also dan­ger­ous for our envi­ron­ment and wildlife.”


drone captures an organised illegal flytip