• Lee Calver
  • 11 March 2014

How much is waste crime costing you?

Figures released last week revealed that waste crime is costing the UK economy up to £808m a year.

The new report by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust (ESAET), found that the costs of illegal waste sites, tax evasion by waste operators deliberately misclassifying waste to avoid higher rates of landfill tax, and the clean-up costs of fly-tipping equate to more than half a billion pounds a year.

According to the report, ‘Waste Crime: Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret’, commissioned by the ESAET and conducted by Eunomia, waste crimes are now “widespread and endemic”.

Commenting on the findings, ESAET trustee, Barry Dennis, said:

"We need to stop thinking about 'waste crime' as somehow being less important than other crimes. Fly-tipping, rogue waste operations and tax evasion via the misclassification of waste are crimes that create health risks for the public, are costing the taxpayer millions of pounds a year and are funding organised crime."

The report also questions why Government funding to tackle waste crime has been slashed when its calculations suggest that for every £1 spent on enforcement, at least £3.20 went back into Government coffers.

Despite the scale of the problem, the Environment Agency looks set to lose 1,700 staff by the end of 2014 and has admitted it expects to reduce its work on illegal waste activities.

The ESAET and report authors state that this is not the way forward and to tackle the problem, waste crime enforcement budgets must be bolstered.

Last week’s announcement by the Sentencing Council that it has recommended increasing fines for fly tipping and waste dumping has been welcomed by the ESAET. However, it feels that this will only be effective if the Environment Agency has sufficient resources to pursue criminals.

Offering its recommendations, the report says that an additional £25m of funding should be made available to the Agency, along with a further £10m for HMRC enforcement activity and other Government departments.

The report also suggests that businesses and landlords should be educated about waste sites and taught how to avoid becoming victims of crime. Forcing waste operators to make provision for the legal disposal of waste they receive in case of business failure or accidents and setting fines for waste crimes that reflect its costs are also ideas proposed by the report.

Continuing his argument for stopping cuts, Mr Dennis said:

"We recognise the real pressure on Government funds. However, our report clearly demonstrates how the cost of enforcement activity to stop waste crime will quickly pay for itself many times over, through increased tax income, reduced clean-up costs and a thriving legitimate waste sector. 

"Seeing waste criminals held to account protects us all from environmental harm and economic disadvantage. The legitimate waste industry is ready to contribute and looks forward to addressing this issue together with Government in a spirit of co-operation."

Welcoming the report, the Chief Executive Officer of waste management company, SITA UK, and ESA Chairman, David Palmer-Jones, said:

"Waste crime is a man-made sore on the environment and is burning the economy to the tune of £800m a year. However, this situation is preventable with the right funding for enforcement measures.  

“We have witnessed the damage caused by under-funding our defences against natural floods. The flood of waste crime is now rising too, but we can look to recycle a small portion of the landfill tax levied from legitimate residual waste disposal into strengthening waste crime defences and enforcement.”

He added:

“With a return to the economy on waste crime enforcement of more than £5 for every £1 spent, not to increase the budget is a wasted opportunity." 

Providing an expert opinion on the current situation, Workplace Law’s Head of Environment, Peter Watts, explained:

“Waste crime in the UK is unfortunately on the rise and it is rather shortsighted of the Government to cut funding into enforcement – especially since as the article points out, the significant costs which have been recovered through mechanisms such as the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

Peter went onto say:

“Landfill Tax has been demonstrated as being one of the most effective environmental policies put into place in this country as it has changed the market in favour of better environmental waste options – especially recycling.

“Unfortunately, the Landfill Tax, which from April 2014 will be £80 per tonne, has had the consequence of stimulating criminal activity including fly-tipping. Remember, waste crime reduces the amount of potential landfill tax collected.”

In conclusion, Peter states:

“Given the economics of the situation, and especially with view to the outcomes of this report, the Government would be wise to increase its enforcement spending and resources rather than cutting back.”

ESAET revealed that it will be sending a copy of the report to Government and will be ‘seeking discussions with the waste and resource management industry representatives, as well as relevant Government departments’ on the report.