Why attempting to donate to a charity shop can land you in prison
PUBLISHED: 17:39 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:01 13 July 2019
People who fly-tip in Norfolk have been told they could face prison or an unlimited fine, but concerns have been raised over a warning people could face the same punishments for leaving donations outside charity shops.
Campaigners trying to stop waste being dumped say that leaving items outside recycling centres and charity shops counts as fly-tipping, as does leaving it next to street bins or recycling banks.
People caught fly-tipping - or paying someone else to do it - could face five years in prison, a fixed penalty notice of £300, or courts can use their discretion to impose an unlimited fine.
All of Norfolk's councils, the Environment Agency, Norfolk police, the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association launched its SCRAP fly-tipping campaign in January.
In the first nine months of last year there were 6,600 recorded instances of fly-tipping in Norfolk, while throughout 2017/18, there were 15,305.
The estimated cost of dealing with illegally dumped waste in 2016/17 for Norfolk's councils was just over £1.1m.
The SCRAP campaign emphasises how dropping items off outside charity shops is considered to be fly-tipping.
But people working in Norwich charity shops were not convinced it was a major problem and some feared the warning could deter people from making donations.
Sue Armstrong, who works in PACT Animal Sanctuary Boutique in Dove Street, said most of their donations are made in person.
But she said she feared charities could lose out if people did not leave donations outside.
One manager of a city centre charity shop said: "We don't have anybody leave bags outside our store. Everything here is collected free of charge, and all of our customers are fully aware of that.
But she added the charity had received some strange donations, which they ended up having to dispose of.
She said: "I've had false teeth; I've had prosthetics, strange things like that.
"We've had a prosthetic breast donated before, that was up there with the strangest.
"And I've had somebody's ashes donated in an urn, which had a little note saying 'please look after my grandma'."
The Big C Charity Shop and Bridal Boutique in Timberhill has a sign on the door urging people to not leave donations overnight, but to wait until the next day, so shop staff can thank them in person.
Staff there said they did have bags of donations left outside from time to time. One shop worker said; "I wouldn't want a really cross telling off sign on the door telling people in bright red letters 'Do not leave donations outside', because I think that would put people off. So yeah it is a tricky one."
Dig Bultitude, a store assistant at Oxfam in Bedford Street, said it was not an issue there, but said: "I live in Poringland and they've actually had to put a notice on their door - the charity shop - to say don't ever do that because it's regarded as fly tipping.
"People arrive in their cars and expect to drop the stuff, and if they're shut or it's not easy, they just leave it and don't care about what they're donating."
James Wilson, chairman of the Norfolk Waste Enforcement Group, said: "Norfolk has relatively low levels of fly-tipping compared with other parts of the country, but it is still following a national pattern of increased incidents, which is why we are running the SCRAP fly-tipping campaign.
"The biggest issue we have is people giving their waste to unlicensed carriers who end up fly-tipping it.
"In terms of charity shops, we know some shops suffer from bags being left outside while they are closed. We also know that fly-tipping attracts fly-tipping, so people can then put bags of rubbish next to bags of donations. Our advice would be to always hand your donations to someone when the shops are open."
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Norfolk County Council sparked controversy when it introduced charges for disposing DIY waste at the county's recycling centres.
Since April last year, visitors to the centres have been faced with charges for items such as rubble, timber, plasterboard and sheets of glass.
Two months on from the charges coming in, Chris Feller was caught in an extraordinary stand-off at Hempton Recycling Centre, near Fakenham - after refusing to pay £3 to dump a bamboo blind.
Staff at the centre closed the shutters on him until he agreed to pay the charge, a stalemate which lasted around half an hour.
However, the Conservative-controlled council has insisted that the changes have not led to an increase in fly-tipping and stress that items such as televisions, fridges, furniture and recyclables can still be disposed of at tips free of charge.
Earlier this month a Costessey woman was left with a £240 bill after paying someone £40 to take away her old kitchen - and they fly-tipped it on community woodland.
But the town council tracked her down because documentation was discovered in the rubbish dumped at Greenhills woods.
While the archetypal charity shop donation will generally include unwanted clothes, DVDs and jigsaw puzzles, occasionally they throw up a treasure trove of unexpected wonders.
The following items numbered among the more unusual items to crop up in charity shops across the county - according to staff in the branches:
- An urn containing a person's ashes - complete with a note reading "look after my grandma."
- A set of dentures.
- Several toys (of an adult nature).
- Prosthetic body parts including an arm and a breast.
- A stuffed mouse.
- Used tights - complete with ladder tears.
- A collection of VHS cassettes - including somebody's wedding tape.
- A copy of somebody's personal diary.
- Unwashed underwear.
- A sack of sweet potatoes.
- An already opened jar of mustard.