Waste crime costs England £604 million a year, says ESA report

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:

Waste crime in England incurs losses to the legitimate waste industry and the taxpayer of £604 million a year, according to a new report, 'Rethinking Waste Crime', commissioned by the Environmental Services Association Educational Trust (ESAET) and the Environmental Services Association.

According to Rethinking Waste Crime, the waste sector, which adds £6.6 billion of value to the UK economy, has changed beyond all recognition in the last two decades and regulation has not kept up. "A new waste management system that allows society to use waste as a resource for recycling and recovery has opened up gaps that can be exploited," concluded the report's authors.

Rethinking Waste Crime found the majority of waste crime is associated with waste from businesses, not from households. It suggested most serious waste crime falls into one of six categories: illegal waste sites, inaccurately describing waste, illegal export of waste, illegal burning of waste, fly tipping and serious breaches of permit conditions.

The report said that weak regulation is a major cause of waste crime: for example, anyone can obtain a licence to carry waste by paying a small online fee, and through minimal checks; waste carriers or sites that operate under exemptions (instead of proper waste permits) are rarely inspected; and there is no way to track commercial waste from its production through to its end destination.

Suggesting there is no simple fix, Rethinking Waste Crime recommended a package of changes that are targeted at modernising what it called England’s out-of-date waste management system. The report suggested the following changes are made to waste regulation:

  • Closing the gaps in regulation
  • Reducing exemptions for waste sites
  • Setting new standards to qualify as a waste carrier, broker and dealer
  • Stronger enforcement of failures in Duty of Care right through the waste chain
  • Improving enforcement efforts by introducing a new inspection regime for sites
  • Developing an electronic waste transfer note system for better traceability
  • Developing enforcement funding from within the waste system
  • Improving cross-regulatory cooperation and raising awareness.

Jacob Hayler, executive director at the Environmental Services Association, said: “Despite additional funding for regulators and stronger enforcement powers, waste crime is more entrenched than ever. Clearly, we need a different approach which targets the underlying causes of crime in our sector and which roots out the prevailing culture which allows waste crime to flourish. This report highlights the weakness in the current regime and puts forward ambitious recommendations aimed at stopping waste crime once and for all.”

Mike Brown, managing director of environmental consultancy Eunomia who prepared the report, said: “Regulators have been under-resourced and encouraged to take a light-touch approach in order to be business friendly. Ironically, this is actually harming the interests of legitimate waste businesses while giving criminals an easy ride. The solution isn’t to abandon the progress we’ve made, but to modernise regulation to support our increasingly circular economy.”

Viridor’s head of public affairs Martin Grey welcomed the report and said it a meaningful approach to those issues which allowed waste crime to flourish to England.

Grey added said the waste sector was rapidly evolving and maturing with increased levels of sophistication and professionalism, however, the barriers to industry entry in England currently remained too low, making it vulnerable to criminals who would exploit the system.

Sam Corp, head of regulation at the ESA, who is leading the national ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ Duty of Care campaign, stated: “The report reiterates what we have been advocating ever since the campaign was launched: waste crime must be stopped because it blights local communities, harms the environment and undermines investment in legitimate businesses. Primarily, but not exclusively aimed at SMEs, ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ raises awareness of Duty of Care legislation and provides practical information to help companies, partnerships, family businesses and sole traders from a broad range of sectors to comply and help keep waste out of the hands of waste criminals.”

“As co-funders of the second phase of the Right Waste, Right Place campaign, CIWM welcomes this report, which reinforces the serious impact waste crime has on society as a whole, including legitimate businesses, land owners, communities and the local environment,” said CIWM chief executive Dr Colin Church. “We are committed to raising awareness among businesses of the measures they should take to comply with their waste Duty of Care responsibilities. It is not just about avoiding fines and the risk of more serious legal action – it is about helping companies to demonstrate a professional and responsible approach to managing their waste that in turn can help close down the opportunities for waste criminals to abuse the system.”

An interactive campaign website www.rightwasterightplace.com (Welsh website: www.wales.rightwasterightplace.com) has been developed, which offers advice on how to manage waste safely and efficiently

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