Environment Agency publishes results of national waste crime survey

People, businesses and land owners impacted by waste crime have given their views to the Environment Agency (EA), helping to provide ‘valuable insight’ for the Agency in its fight against criminal waste activity which blights communities, harms the environment and undercuts the legitimate waste sector, it says.

Launched in March, the national waste crime survey assessed how the waste industry, land owners, farmers and associated sectors are impacted by waste crime and how regulation can be used more effectively to combat it.

From the 836 people who responded to the survey, the top issues were large scale fly-tipping followed by illegal waste sites, with 55% of respondents estimating that large-scale fly-tipping has increased over the past 12 months.

The economic impacts of waste crime are cited as the biggest problem, with 73% of respondents saying they have picked up the financial cost of clean-ups, while 58% experienced disruption to their business. Nearly three in 10 of people who were affected by illegal exports of waste or illegal waste sites incurred over £50,000 of financial costs in the last year.

The survey results showed that farmers are most affected by large-scale fly-tipping, and 15% of landowners reported making an insurance claim to clear dumped waste.

Respondents estimated that just 25% of waste crime incidents are reported to the EA, yet waste industry employees estimate that just under one in five organisations (18%) in their industry sector commit some form of waste crime.

Last year the EA prosecuted nearly 100 individuals and companies for waste crime offences, with fines exceeding £900,000, 28 custodial sentences and £1 million of confiscation orders.

The Agency will use the survey feedback to inform its enforcement action and sector engagement, ensuring that customers, businesses and communities have greater awareness of waste regulation, the penalties for those who break the law and how the EA investigates waste crime.

Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment Agency, said: “Waste criminals show complete disregard for communities and the environment, and they need to know we are ready to take action. Last year the EA prosecuted nearly 100 individuals and companies for waste crime offences, with fines exceeding £900,000, 28 custodial sentences and £1 million of confiscation orders.

“We know how frustrating and costly waste crime is for landowners and communities, as well as those who manage their waste correctly but see others breaking the rules to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

“This survey gives us valuable insight into the views of our customers and those impacted by waste crime, and will help us in our fight against waste criminals. It will help us improve compliance  of the waste sector and clamp down harder on those who show complete disregard for the environment and the law.”

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime was also launched in January 2020 to tackle serious and organised crime, and mullti-agency operations have been continuing throughout the pandemic to disrupt illegal activity.

Sharing intelligence

The sharing of intelligence and enforcement within the Joint Unit means the Agency can target more offenders ‘more effectively’, the EA says. In October last year, the EA and the British Transport Police undertook a week of action tackling waste and metal crime. Over 1,100 vehicles were stopped and 550 sites were visited. Over 150 offences were detected and 29 arrests made.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Agency also stopped illegal waste activity at 2,700 sites, with 191 prosecutions and 39 prison sentences being handed down. It also issued fines of over £1.1 million for illegal waste sites and £5.5 million in Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation orders.

Those caught fly-tipping can be fined £400, with more serious offences leading to fines of up to £50,000 and two years in prison.

The survey was commissioned by the Environment Agency and is supported by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, Environmental Services Association, the United Resource Operators Consortium and the National Farmers Union.

Everyone has a duty of care to manage their waste responsibly and the code of practice helps those handling waste to fulfil this. Before householders pass their waste to a carrier, they have a legal duty of care to check that the carrier is licensed, which can be done on the EA website.

It is also crucial that waste is correctly coded and classified for disposal or recycling so that you, or anyone handling your waste, can deal with it properly.

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