The Environment Agency’s head of waste regulation, Malcolm Lythgo, explains how partnership working is reducing illegal vehicle and parts sales online.
The reuse of parts from end-of-life vehicles is probably the single greatest reuse/recycling success story of any consumer product. Buying a second-hand ‘green part’ brings environmental benefits by reducing the need to use energy in manufacturing new replacement parts, and it extends the life of the vehicle being fitted with the recycled part. Green parts typically cost less than half the price of equivalent new parts. This should be great news for everyone – but there are two sides to this story.
The sale of second-hand parts from illegal waste sites has increased in the past few years, with online auction sites becoming popular places to sell them. Online platforms are an attractive and cheaper way of setting up accounts to sell waste car parts, but dig deeper and there are links to serious and organised crime, such as vehicle and parts theft.
Some traders of second-hand items buy their stock from authorised treatment facilities, but many are breaking vehicles themselves in unlicensed garages, on their driveway or in their gardens. This is illegal. It represents a huge risk to the environment; vehicles are full of potential pollutants – such as fuel, oils, lubricants, plastics and gases – which need to be disposed of appropriately so they don’t poison our planet. However, not everyone cares about this as much as they do about making easy money.
Everyone who breaks a vehicle should have the appropriate environmental permit and robust procedures in place to mitigate risks to the environment and community
Everyone who breaks a vehicle should have the appropriate environmental permit and robust procedures in place to mitigate risks to the environment and community. Additional regulations control the movement of scrap vehicles and associated waste, including exports of parts and whole vehicles.
eBay is the largest online selling platform in the UK, with around 20,000 sellers dealing in vehicle parts, both new and second-hand. So we’ve teamed up with it and the Vehicle Recyclers’ Association to stop illegal businesses using the platform as a way to trade. At the end of February 2021, we ran a two-week trial, during which eBay suspended 10 traders who did not appear to have environmental permits.
Of the 10, just two were sourcing parts legally through an authorised treatment facility, and eight were found to be selling parts without a permit. Of these, seven responded, and four completed permit applications, one of which we have now approved. Importantly, because of the partnership working with eBay, we were able to suspend accounts where legal boundaries had been crossed and could get the attention of the sellers quickly. It is amazing how fast people respond when the sole driver behind the operation – money – is affected.
The results of this project are very promising – and not only were these outcomes delivered quickly, but they also encouraged compliance, generated huge amounts of intelligence, and presented opportunities for further enforcement outcomes without the need to visit the sites.
Because of this partnership, sellers on eBay must now display their permit number on every listing, or the permit number of the site(s) from where they source the parts they are selling, providing reassurance to purchasers that they are buying from a legal dealer.
Businesses are not always aware they must have a permit and many are reacting positively to this change in eBay’s policy. This is proving to be a fast and direct way of communicating our message to vehicle breakers and parts dealers, reducing the demand on our frontline officers to make site visits.
End-of-life vehicle crime affects us all. From the obvious environmental issues to those of vehicle safety and organised crime, we all suffer when rogue operators decide to avoid regulation and the law.
If the seller continues to trade, there are further steps we can take, including reporting them to the police and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Those intentionally operating illegally will find their trading account suspended or removed from eBay.
eBay is one of many platforms providing opportunities for cyber-enabled crime and this is why we are reaching out to other competent authorities in the UK to tackle the issue in partnership. Natural Resource Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency are pooling their resources with us to tackle environmental crime across all online platforms. These include eBay, Gumtree and Facebook, but there are many more we want to bring on board.
End-of-life vehicle crime affects us all. From the obvious environmental issues to those of vehicle safety and organised crime, we all suffer when rogue operators decide to avoid regulation and the law. At the Environment Agency, we aim to keep environmental offending to a minimum, which is why end-of-life vehicle breaking is on our radar. What can you do to help?
This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Circular.