No Fly Tipping

No Fly Tipping. Joe and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland and saw a sign on the back of an apartment building: No Fly Tipping. This is one of my favorite British English expressions, right up there with Pelican Crossing.

What could Fly Tipping mean and why would it be prohibited?

As someone from the Midwest in the US, I thought immediately of Cow Tipping (described in Wikipedia: “the purported activity of sneaking up on any unsuspecting or sleeping upright cow and pushing it over for entertainment. The practice of cow tipping is generally considered an urban legend, and stories of such feats viewed as tall tales.”)

I imagined fly tipping would be even more difficult. Sneaking up on flies is really hard to do, for me, at least.

So I asked my wonderful Scottish sister-in-law what fly tipping is and why it’s not allowed.

“Was there a bin by the sign?”

“A bin?”

“A place where you put rubbish?”

“A garbage dumpster! Yes!”

“Fly tipping is dumping your rubbish in someone else’s bin. The apartment building owners probably want to make sure that the residents’ rubbish bin doesn’t get filled up with other people’s rubbish.”

Okay! Fly tipping doesn’t apply only to dumpsters, it’s putting your garbage anywhere it doesn’t belong. It’s fly “tipping,” because it’s dumping. It’s “fly” tipping because it’s done on the fly, in a hurry, as you go past. It’s making your garbage someone else’s responsibility instead of dealing with it yourself or disposing of it appropriately.

I love this expression because, well, fly tipping, and because it also serves as a very useful metaphor.

When I was in seminary, a wise priest mentor advised, You need to learn how not to take on someone else’s problems as your own. Your job is to listen and help them work on their own relationship with God. Your job is not to try to take their issues on yourself. That doesn’t help them; it will exhaust you; and it’s not faithful.

He said he noticed early in his parish work that when a particular parishioner came to his office to talk, she always said she left feeling so much better and he always ended up with a splitting headache. He said, I realized she was dumping her problems on me, and I was taking them.

No Fly Tipping.

I’ve got my own garbage to deal with and dispose of. Together we can discuss good ways for you to dispose of your garbage. I can tell you what’s been helpful as I work on disposing of mine. I can help you discern whether what you’re dealing with really is garbage, and whether it’s really yours. We can pray together about your garbage and how you might best deal with it. I can offer you assurance that your garbage really can be disposed of, there really is someone who will take your garbage and help you not create more of it. But I can’t dispose of your garbage for you and there isn’t room in my dumpster for yours too.

I think what makes it difficult to spot metaphorical fly tipping when it’s going on until we end up with that headache or overflowing dumpster is how we use language, and how easily we can use language to try to shift responsibility or cover over what’s really going on. We may not even realize that is what we are doing.

For example, when the Archbishop of Canterbury said he was faced “with a really difficult decision, because an awful lot of people would be excluded by the inclusion of other people, and they’re people in really bad places,” (, I think he was fly tipping.

I won’t go near his comment about “bad places.” But his comment that “an awful lot of people would be excluded by the inclusion of other people” is problematic. Including some people may result in other people deciding not to accept the invitation to come. They may even say they’ve been excluded, but they haven’t. They’ve chosen not to come. That’s not how inclusion and exclusion works. One can include or exclude from an invitation; one can’t exclude by including.

It may be that that’s how Archbishop Welby understands his decision not to invite some people to the Lambeth Conference. I believe that what might have been an easy decision for others truly has been difficult for him. By talking about trying to include the greatest number of people, it may also be that his decision sounds more noble, maybe to him, and maybe to others. It still doesn’t get around the problem of attempting to learn how to disagree well through excluding people from the conversation or scapegoating a few people for the supposed good of the many. I hope he will continue to work on listening, as he says he will. I will too.

I’ve got a lot of rubbish in my own bin that needs disposing of. What is helpful to me is honesty and precision. Sometimes it’s painful and embarrassing when my trash is noticed and named and I’m left holding the bag and I have to face the fact: This smells bad. I need to stop producing this kind of waste. I need my dumpster emptied and a fresh start.

It also takes time to dispose of trash appropriately. It’s easier to say something on the fly and hope that will make the problem go away, or make me seem like less of a garbage producer, or a more compassionate garbage producer, than it is to admit my own garbage-making capacities and get on with disposing of my own trash responsibly.

No Fly Tipping.

  1. Didn’t know where you were going at first but. . oh my, GREAT METAPHOR!!! It gives me some sense of peace that individuals like Joe and you are cogently, rationally, and in the spirit of love making this argument. You’re well-respected and voices that will be heard. And, a personal thank you, for helping me in some of those “garbage” days 🙂 Fly-tipping – just added a new metaphor to my world . . xoxo Phyllis

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOVE this message!!!!

    This is the type of message that you print, and re-read on a regular basis.

    Thank you!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your posts . . .

    And how about, in Edinburgh, the meaning of the term/job description “surveyor of public housing”? It requires us to shed what we know about the words from our own heritage and adapt to the Edinburg where we were/where you are.

    Much love,


    Michael Winn 410.703.2768 cell phone & text 410.849.2605 emergency land line


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Amy. Your piece is very helpful as I try to ponder Archbishop Justin’s decision.
    Fly tipping became a big problem when we were living in Italy and the local commune instituted a rubbish removal plan so complex that it required an engineering degree and a computer to understand. Is there another apt metaphor in that effort?


  5. “No Fly Tipping” is a wonderful phrase. When people try to dump a problem on me that’s none of my business, my usual reply is “Not my circus, not my monkey.” But in a more serious vein it’s an interesting question: As a priest, when speaking with people, how do you keep the lid of your dumpster closed, Amy, while providing the help and compassionate counseling which you have given all of us? Thanks for sharing all that you and Joe are doing on your mission.
    Love, Frank


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