UK waste management firm Biffa has lost a case in the court of appeal to overturn a criminal conviction for exporting contaminated waste to China.
Biffa “strongly contested” the case brought against them after it was found guilty in June 2019 of sending contaminated household waste, described as waste paper, to China between May and June 2015.
Exports of unsorted household recycling waste from the UK to China are banned.
During the Environment Agency (EA) investigation, officers said they prevented seven 25-tonne containers destined for China at Felixstowe Port from onward export.
Although marked as waste paper, the contents of the containers included soiled nappies, food packaging, items of clothing, bags of faeces, wood, tin cans, plastic bottles and electric cable.
In a hearing held at Wood Green Crown Court last year the court fined Biffa £350,000 and ordered that the company pays costs of £240,000 and a further £9,912 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
The court of appeal has confirmed and clarified the law and given valuable guidance that will help in our fight to save the environment.
Biffa appealed the verdict, stating the Chinese mills to which the waste was due to be exported, conducted pre-checks before shipping to confirm that the materials was “98.5% pure paper”.
Biffa said that all were accredited by the EA as being “of an equal or higher environmental standard as mills within the UK and Europe”.
At the time, a Biffa spokesperson said: “These mills were all accredited by the EA as being of an equal or higher environmental standard as mills within the UK and Europe and all our materials were regularly inspected by customs in China and by a Chinese Inspectorate regime based in the UK prior to shipping.
“In addition, all buyers conducted pre-checks before shipping to confirm that the materials were 98.5% pure paper, which was the accepted industry standard.
The EA said the jury did not accept Biffa’s version of events that consignments leaving its depot in Edmonton four years ago complied with the law because they comprised of waste paper.
The three judges hearing the case rejected Biffa’s arguments on Friday (3 June).
Sailesh Mehta, a human rights and environmental barrister who represented the Environment Agency in the court of appeal case, welcomed the judgment, telling The Guardian that the court of appeal has helped to clarify the law on the export of household waste, “masquerading as waste paper”.
This is a Europe-wide problem and this case will have far-reaching and beneficial consequences.
He said: “This is a Europe-wide problem and this case will have far-reaching and beneficial consequences. The Environment Agency sought to enforce our legal and moral obligations, and to protect the environments of developing nations who receive our harmful waste.
“The export of our unwanted waste is a multimillion-pound business, here and in Europe. The court of appeal has confirmed and clarified the law and given valuable guidance that will help in our fight to save the environment.”
A spokesperson for Biffa said: “We are disappointed with this outcome and are now considering our options.”