Fly-tipping: Drivers, deterrents and impacts

A survey with members of the public to explore their attitudes towards, and experiences of, fly-tipping.

Fly-tipping is a significant problem in England - it can have negative impacts on the environment and human/animal health, and has a significant financial impact: an estimated cost of £392 million in 2018/19. Despite considerable efforts, it also appears to be an entrenched problem, with English local authorities dealing with over 1 million fly-tipping incidents on public land alone in 2020/21.

About the study

In 2021, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned Air & Space Evidence to conduct research which aimed to shed light on the drivers, disincentives and impacts of fly-tipping and to provide data and solutions which might help local authorities (and others) to reduce fly-tipping through better detection, deterrence, prevention, and risk-based enforcement. To supplement evidence generated through a literature review, a modelling exercise and qualitative research with a range of stakeholders, the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) conducted a survey with members of the public to explore their attitudes towards, and experiences of, fly-tipping. 

NatCen Panel

Britain’s longest-running random probability-based panel, providing robust data from a representative sample at affordable prices.

Click here for more information.


  • Around 1-in-5 people reported undertaking activities that can be classified (legally) as fly-tipping. Many of these might be considered as ‘mistakenly’ fly-tipping, for example nine per cent have left items on the street, and eight per cent left items outside a charity shop, but fewer than one per cent had disposed of items by a road, field, etc.
  • Reducing environmental impact was the most important factor for people when choosing how to dispose of unwanted items, with 92% saying it was very or quite important. In comparison, 81% said ease and 77% said cost was very or quite important.
  • Just over half (56%) of people using Household Waste & Recycling Centres in the past year had experienced difficulties using them. Long queues were the most commonly-reported difficulty (37%).
  • Most members of the public were aware that waste carriers had to be licensed (57%). However, only one-in-four (28%) were aware there was an online database of waste carriers, and one in ten (11%) knew they themselves could receive a criminal conviction if their waste was not disposed of properly.
  • Around a quarter of people (23%) would always report people if they saw them fly-tipping. 43% reported not knowing who to report it to and 39% reported not thinking anything would be done if they did report it.


Fieldwork for this strand of the study was conducted using the random-probability NatCen Panel. The NatCen Panel is a panel of people recruited from high-quality, random probability surveys such as the British Social Attitudes survey. Those agreeing to join the Panel are then invited to take part in additional short surveys covering a range of different topics either online or over the phone. By using a probability-based sample and allowing those without internet access to take part this design reduces the risk of bias compared to online-only surveys which exclude those who do not have access to, or are less confident using, the internet or surveys using convenience samples which are more likely to include people who are more ‘available’ or particularly want to express their views.

The survey was conducted between 29th July and 19th August 2021. A total of 2,225 of the 2,796 panel members invited to take part in this wave did so, giving an 80% survey response rate. Taking account of nonresponse at the recruitment interview and at the point of recruitment to the panel, the overall response rate was 12%. For this study, the questions on fly-tipping were only asked of people living in England: 1,969 participants. The data were weighted to be representative of the English adult (18+) population.