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BIN_Image credit: Getty Images
Image credit: Getty Images

4 December 2017 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal


Waste crime costs the UK £560 million a year, Herpreet Kaur Grewal reports.

In its report Waste Crime – Britain’s Dirty Secret the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the organisation representing waste professionals, says waste crime takes many different forms, from builders fly-tipping rubble on country roads to illegal waste sites processing thousands of tonnes of waste and operators misclassifying waste to evade millions in tax.

Local authorities are cracking down heavily on waste crime, with on-the-spot fines for fly-tipping (totalling about £750,000 a year in England alone) and by pursuing prosecutions of ‘waste owners’ who allow their waste to be dumped illegally, says the study.

The government has already implemented measures to try to tackle waste crime. The Environment Agency’s waste crime task force has given a welcome boost to enforcement efforts, and has helped to close down a record number of illegal waste sites, says the report. 

It also points out that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has clarified the rules on what kinds of waste can be classified as inert, and the Sentencing Council’s review of guidance on the penalties for environmental crimes seems likely to improve on a current weakness in the enforcement system.

Despite these measures ESA says “waste crime remains a substantial threat to the legitimate waste sector, and the resources available to tackle it are coming under increasing pressure” and contends that cutting enforcement expenditure “seems a false economy”.

Its study shows that each pound spent on enforcement is likely to yield a return of as much as £5.60. Of this, £3.20 would be received directly by government in taxes, with the rest benefiting legitimate waste sector firms and wider society.

Robert Logan, managing director of waste management firm Waste Cost Reduction Services, said: “Waste crime is now sadly endemic in our country, and we all have a duty of care and responsibility to dispose of waste compliantly.

“It is important that FMs and businesses as a whole partner with a reliable, compliant and experienced waste management provider, fully committed to the circular economy, carrying the correct and appropriate licences and able to provide full traceability and compliance along every step of the process.” 

Recommendations from the report:

1. Support proper enforcement of the law: Increase and protect enforcement budgets to provide a minimum of £25 million for the Environment Agency, and £10m for HMRC and other relevant departments and agencies. Require the Environment Agency to report on how long it takes to investigate and resolve cases to promote speedier resolution, and help industry and the public to play their part by enabling them to identify and report suspicious waste activity more easily. 

2. Get the rules right: Tackle tax evasion by introducing a testing system to check waste is correctly classified and charged at the right rate of tax. And just as drivers must be insured in case of an accident, waste operators should be required to make provision for the legal disposal of waste they receive in case of business failure – or of clean-up in case of fire.

3. Stop businesses becoming victims of crime or facilitating crime: Help landlords of waste sites to avoid becoming victims of crime by providing information and a template contract to protect against potential risks. Educate business advisers (e.g. Business Link staff) about the risks of waste crime, and review and overhaul the duty of care requirements for waste producers, ensuring that the system is credible and enforceable. 

4. Make the punishment fit the crime: Help courts set fines for waste offences that reflect its costs, and support the implementation of the Sentencing Council’s new guidance.