Kristian Dales, communications director at FCC Environment, offers his comments on Defra’s latest consultation on proposals to enhance enforcement powers at regulated facilities and the call for evidence on other measures to tackle waste crime
FCC Environment welcomed the opportunity to offer our perspective to Defra as we are acutely aware of the opportunities and challenges the sector faces in helping to tackle the pressing issue of waste crime.
We are witness to the economic drivers of waste management, the impact of waste crime and the impact of policy. We hope that our evidence and comment helps to inform future work and government policy to ensure a robust and efficient waste management industry that contributes to a reduction in waste crime.
In addition to this consultation, we’re hopeful of a wider review of how the UK deals with waste crime to secure more funding for the EA, more spot checks by the police and the improved sharing of intelligence between the industry, regulators and prosecutors.
At the moment, waste makes business sense for the organised crime gangs. A complete review might be a daunting prospect for officials to consider, but a piecemeal approach will do little more than paper of some of the cracks. Criminals make money by finding gaps. We need to plug them and stop the flow of money away from business and taxpayers. After all, there are hundreds of millions of pounds at stake, as well as the environmental and social impacts.
The landfill tax escalator has reduced the amount of waste to landfill but, unfortunately, it has also led to an increase in waste crime, from small-scale fly-tipping to criminal gangs offering cheap disposal options on a huge scale. We welcome the proposals set out in the consultation and recent moves to push waste crime up the agenda but Defra has been struggling due to budget cuts and a number of serious flooding incidents.
In essence, we believe that it is not more powers the Environment Agency (EA) needs, it is more manpower. The tax revenue generated by high landfill taxes should be directly invested into more resources to catch illegal waste operators and waste producers that knowingly use them.
With little resource available to the EA to catch the true criminals and pressure to secure more prosecutions, we feel that legitimate, self-reporting waste businesses are being used as an easy target for minor permit breach enforcement action. Deliberate illegality demands an intelligence-led approach and specific skillsets.
We support the ambitious waste policy and targets being set in Scotland by SEPA, which is approaching waste crime from a macro level rather than on a site-by-site basis. The Smarter Regulation of Waste in Europe programme aims to improve understanding of how illegal waste markets behave, identify holes in regulation and squeeze criminals out with a focus on illegal exports.
The misclassification of waste exports is widely acknowledged as an issue for UK waste operators as it is big business. We need stronger permitting regimes and more spot checks, but this requires manpower and budget which is why we need improved intelligence. The intelligence hub being set up as part of the Smart project in Scotland is a great initiative – but we need to make sure information flows both ways to ensure that industry does not lose confidence.
Additionally, we believe that the police have a crucial role to play by working closely with the EA and taking the lead when it comes to the big crime gangs with significant fines and penalties. A few thousand pounds and perhaps a few months in prison won’t deter a crime gang that can make millions from avoiding landfill taxes.