Northern Ireland taxpayer's £500k bill to clean up after 'criminal' fly-tippers
Cleaning up after illegal fly-tipping has cost Northern Ireland taxpayers half-a-million pounds in the last two years.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) dealt with more than 300 illegal waste sites, leading to the bill - enough to employ 15 nurses.
Derek Williamson, NIEA's head of enforcement, said collective action was needed to stop the problem.
"Fly-tipping is a crime and a grotesque blight on our landscape," he said.
"In the last two years NIEA alone have cleaned up 306 sites across Northern Ireland at a cost to the taxpayer of over £500,000.
"That amount would be significantly higher if we factored in the amount of money each council spends on clean-ups.
"These illegal dumpers are damaging our landscape and turning some of our most precious beauty spots in cities, towns and the countryside into rubbish tips.
"It is not an issue we can simply prosecute our way out of. We must inform, educate and motivate people to change their behaviour. To have respect and concern for their prized landscape and environment - for their own communities, neighbours and our economy."
Mr Williamson said the agency did not hesitate to prosecute when it had enough evidence.
However, he said more help was needed to fight the fly-tippers.
"We have started a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to explain that everyone has a responsibility when it comes to how their own rubbish is disposed of," he added.
"We are working with partners to tackle this problem, as clean-up, investigation and prosecution costs are a significant strain on the public purse.
"It is a stain on our beautiful and unique countryside, causes damage to our environment and wildlife, as well as creating a headache for people who live or work nearby with litter, vermin, pollution and smell.
"In NIEA we are determined to tackle those waste criminals who wilfully dispose of their waste illegally."
Dr Ian Humphreys, from environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said "a small number of selfish people" were placing a significant burden on our environment and economy.
"We are keen to work with NIEA and local councils to help tackle this problem and develop tangible community pride so that people love where they live and feel responsible for the landscape around them," he added.
"Our Live Here Love Here campaign is aimed at helping create cleaner and prouder communities and ultimately a better environment for everyone.
"A high quality environment is something we all benefit from."