SORTING through dumped rubbish by hand is not something for the faint hearted but it’s all in a day’s work for council environmental enforcement officers.
Dirty nappies, mouldy food, glass, clothes, adult toys and a dead guinea pig are just some of the items that officers have been faced with when having to dispose of people’s abandoned rubbish.
This is just a small part of the seven-day-a-week service provided by Carmarthenshire County Council enforcement officers.
Ensuring the environment is protected is vital and means patrolling in all weathers to look for things like illegal rubbish dumping and dealing with people who are caught breaking the law.
Some 80% of litter on our streets is cigarette butts. The ends can take up to 12 years to break down, they can be eaten by children and animals and can contaminate water supplies because they contain plastic fibres and toxic chemicals, such as cadmium, lead and zinc which leach into the soil and waterways.
Their job also involves investigative work including preparing cases for court action. This can be as a result of someone failing to pay a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) or larger prosecutions and is a costly and lengthy process.
In the last 12 months 277 FPNs have been issued and 22 successful prosecutions.
Confronting those caught breaking the law especially after being caught red handed goes hand in hand with the job. Some situations can be quite challenging with officers on the receiving end of an offenders tongue. All officers work in pairs and are equipped with the latest digital technology including body and dashboard cameras. This is for the protection of both offender and officer.
David Jones is one of eight environmental enforcement officers in Carmarthenshire covering 3,000km of roads with a population of 183,000.
He said: “The majority are pretty much reasonable when we approach them especially when we tell them we have them on camera committing an offence. People just need to be mindful that we are doing a job just like they go about doing theirs.”
Catching fly tippers in the act can be difficult for officers so they heavily rely on the help of the public’s help.
David said: “When we’ve had a complaint in via email or telephone from a member of the public about rubbish being dumped illegally we go out to visit the site and more often than not are faced with a lot of mess. It’s not only our job to track down the carrier but we have to dispose of their rubbish appropriately. This means going through each bag and sorting out every item, by hand.”
Officers also deal with all highway offences such as skips and scaffolding with abandoned cars high up on the number of complaints received. However, not all are quite what they seem.
He said: “We get calls from people who are not happy that someone living nearby has parked their car outside their property so they tell us it’s abandoned in the hope we can do something about it. So a lot of time can be wasted in carrying out checks to find out if this is the case. If a car is parked there legally then there is nothing we can do about it.
Dropping litter is not only unsightly it can kill. One piece of litter can travel through the environment, often through drainage systems and watercourses, potentially killing numerous animals and polluting the local built and natural environment.
David added: “Ensuring we maintain a zero tolerance approach to littering is not something we can do on our own – it’s impossible. We welcome any help from the public as they are the eyes and ears of their communities. People need not worry about being identified as any information we do have is treated confidentially. It really boils down to people having pride in and taking care of their local community and environment.”
Fly-tipping is a criminal offence and if caught you could be fined up to £50,000 or face imprisonment. It includes anything from general household waste, for example, fridges, sofas, mattresses and garden waste. As well as commercial and industrial waste, for example, soil, clinical waste, rubble and tyres. If you need to dispose of any large items such as a fridge, freezer, wardrobe or washing machine we offer a bulky waste collection. We will collect up to three items for £25. If you see someone fly tipping please report it to us as soon as possible.