End all waste exports to crack down on waste crime, says EA Chief

Environment Agency (EA) Chief Executive Sir James Bevan has outlined his aspirations to ban waste exports as a measure against waste criminals.

In a speech to the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Sir James set out how the EA and its partners’ aim is to gain the upper hand in the long-term struggle against waste criminality.

All the evidence suggests waste crime is on the rise… the Environment Agency’s own 2021 National Waste Crime Survey concluded that waste crime in England was endemic.

Sir James Bevan said: “Ending waste exports would require us to treat the waste ourselves in the UK, and we have the technical know-how to do that or develop ways to do that. The requirement to manage all our waste at home would drive more recycling, more innovation and new business in the UK, including for those firms currently exporting.”

Amongst Sir James Bevan’s plans was a call for regulators to be armed with a range of measures, such as better resourcing and tougher penalties for those who commit the worst offences. He also explained his vision for a total ban on waste that is exported abroad to make it harder for criminals to exploit the opportunities that currently exist by “trafficking” waste.

“I think we should set ourselves the challenge of getting to a position where we process all our waste at home and end all waste exports as soon as possible,” he said.

In 2019, the EA teamed up with eight partners – including other UK environmental agencies, the police, the National Crime Agency, HM Revenue & Customs, and the British Transport Police to create the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, which has since been joined by the National Fire Chiefs Council. The unit shares intelligence and plans joint operations against waste criminals.

The Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, published in 2018, outlined the UK’s primary aim to process more of our waste at home. As the strategy is due to be updated next year, Sir Bevan said during his speech how he sees this as a perfect opportunity for the UK to send a strong signal that the EA can put a stop to waste exports altogether.

The government has shown its support by committing a further £10m for the EA to fight waste crime this year. But there is no reason why the taxpayer should bear all the burden.

As a way of supplementing taxpayer money, Sir Bevan endorsed the use of using the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize criminals’ assets and “use our share of that money to fund the fight against them.”

He continued that “we’d (also) like to use some of the charge income we get from regulating the legitimate waste industry to fight the criminals which damage it.”

In the 2019-20 financial year, the EA brought prosecutions against 27 companies and 69 individuals for waste crime offences. This resulted in 28 prison sentences, total fines exceeding £900,000, and confiscation orders totalling more than £1 million.

Sir Bevan said that while the EA can’t do repurpose funds seized from waste criminals under the current rules, “we are keen to explore whether the industry could provide some funding – either through charges or directly to the EA – that would allow us to better protect legitimate waste businesses against the criminals.”

Sir Bevan also highlighted in his speech that the Government has already said, in its “farsighted Resources and Waste Strategy published in 2018”, that our aim should be to “process more of our waste at home and eliminate waste crime.”

“The Government is leading the way ensuring there is no longer any scope for criminals to exploit the current system, with plans to move the waste carriers, brokers and dealers regime from a registration to a permit-based system; to enhance the background checks needed to operate… and to introduce a technical competence requirement. These plans have our full support.”

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