Exclusive | Illegal waste exports – an Environment Agency view

The Environment Agency’s Illegal Waste Exports and Operational Intelligence Manager, Ben Ryder, explores the cost of illegal waste exports, both monetary and to the communities it damages, and delves into what you can do to make a difference.

You know as well as we do that the UK generates vast quantities of waste every year – as much as 222 million tonnes each year. It’s a staggering figure and currently amounts to far too much for the UK’s waste industry to handle.

Such immense amounts of waste and the costs of dealing with it have led to criminals exploiting a bad situation. They are making huge profits by illegally exporting waste that you might otherwise have received and legally processed.

These criminals are also profiting off the back of the environment overseas, the communities forced to deal with the environmental challenges and the health risks to them caused by illegally exporting waste to their countries.

And it costs us all as taxpayers huge sums of money in repatriation costs and remedial work.

At the Environment Agency, we know these criminals are agile, connected, and organised, making it hard to track and stop them.

We know there is no one single person or organisation to blame here. We all need to accept responsibility and make changes that will lead to far less waste being exported illegally.

We must work together to promote the circular economy, investing in domestic solutions and reducing our reliance on the waste export market. This in turn will support the UK economy and jobs for local communities.

At the Environment Agency, we are working to strengthen our relationship with external partners and improve industry knowledge and standards, as well as increasing our intelligence pool to allow more targeted enforcement.

Partners such as shipping lines and industry trade bodies including CIWM, Recycling Association, and ESA are essential in providing data and information to assist us in stopping illegality. They can also provide platforms to disseminate information and messaging to the industry to help ensure compliance within the waste export regime.

We are also working with government to introduce legislative change which allows more robust regulation and enforcement, ensuring an equal playing field for all involved in the industry and the highest possible standards across reprocessors and exporters alike.

The waste industry can play its part too by investing heavily in the UK’s recycling infrastructure to enable more waste to be dealt with at home and less reliance on exports.

And do not allow those you know are acting criminally within your sector to get away with it. Report them to our partner, Crimestoppers. Give information | Crimestoppers (crimestoppers-uk.org).

You will remain 100% anonymous. Always. Crimestoppers will never ask who you are, just what you know.

Together we can make a change for the better.

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