Biffa fined £1.5 million for waste export breach

UK waste management firm, Biffa, has been found guilty of exporting household waste labelled as paper to Asia.

The company was fined £1.5 million late last week (30 July) for the export breach, in what the judge called “reckless, bordering on deliberate.”

An investigation by the Environment Agency (EA) prevented sixteen 25-tonne containers from onward export between Southampton and India and Indonesia in 2018 and 2019.

Biffa was also convicted of exporting a further 26 containers that sailed before they could be stopped.

Wood Green crown court heard Biffa logged various items as paper at its depot in north London.

This guilty verdict underlines that anyone producing or handling waste must only export material legally and safely for recycling – EA

The tightly packed waste reportedly included soiled nappies, tins, hairpieces, plastics, as well as clothing and food packaging.

The waste was destined for one paper mill in India and two more in Indonesia, the EA said.

This is the second legal action of its kind brought against Biffa in as many years.

In 2019, Biffa was found guilty of sending waste collected from households, such as used nappies and food packaging, that was labelled as waste paper, to China.

Biffa, at the time, appealed the verdict, saying the Chinese mills to which the waste was due to be exported conducted pre-checks before shipping in order to confirm that the materials were “98.5% pure paper”.

Biffa said they were all accredited by the EA as being “of an equal or higher environmental standard as mills within the UK and Europe”. However, judges rejected Biffa’s appeal in June 2020.

Illegal exports

Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency, said: “Biffa shipped banned materials to developing countries, without having systems in place to prevent the offences.

“As the two convictions in 2019 and this year show, the Environment Agency will pursue those who blight the lives of overseas communities through illegal exports.

“This guilty verdict underlines that anyone producing or handling waste must only export material legally and safely for recycling.”

In addition to the £1.5 million fine, Biffa was ordered to pay costs of £153,827.99, and a proceeds of crime order of £38,388.

On the judgement, Biffa said in a statement: “We take our responsibility for environmental stewardship very seriously and we accept the court’s judgement. We no longer export waste paper outside the OECD and will carefully review our processes to ensure they fully meet the implications of this judgement.”

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