• International Workplace
  • 18 April 2016

Waste crime rises as UK companies fail to comply with their waste ‘duty of care’ obligations

Illegal disposal of waste is a significant burden to the UK economy, diverting up to £1bn per annum from legitimate business and the HM Treasury, as well as presenting a significant risk to human health and the environment. However, recent research has indicated that over half (56%) of UK companies are not complying with their legal duty of care to ensure that the waste they produce is managed safely and responsibly.  Of these, 94% are SMEs with fewer than 250 staff.

Mat Crocker, Deputy Director of Waste and Illegals at the Environment Agency, commented:

“Sadly, waste crime is still a big problem in England.  Illegally deposited waste is unsightly, environmentally destructive and expensive to clean up.  But it is only the visual tip of a larger iceberg of waste crime, where criminals are getting rich on exploiting widespread ignorance of the law.”

The impact of waste crime on businesses has been highlighted by a number of cases where landlords have been left with responsibility for waste deposited illegally by tenants on their premises.  Following abandonment of the premises by the tenant, the landlord has had to pick up substantial bills for clean-up and pollution control.

In acknowledgement of the scale of the issue, the Chancellor awarded the Environment Agency an additional budget of £20m in last autumn’s Spending Review to tackle waste crime over the next five years.

Business has a significant role to play in controlling the illegal deposit of waste by complying with the ‘duty of care’. Failure to do so puts an organisation at risk of prosecution. The duty starts from the moment the waste is produced, and continues until it is recovered or finally disposed of.  By ensuring that waste is classified and stored correctly, and transferred to licensed operators for transport and disposal, the potential for waste crime is considerably reduced.

In an attempt to provide clarity regarding the requirements under ‘duty of care’ the Environment Agency  published a revised Waste Duty of Care Code of Practice last month and is supporting the ‘Right Waste Right Place’ campaign launched last Tuesday, which aims to raise awareness and provide practical information to help companies comply with their legal obligations.

Sam Corp, Head of Regulation at the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the waste trade body which is managing the awareness campaign said:   

“Understanding ‘Duty of Care’ responsibilities and achieving compliance with environmental legislation can save businesses money and help prevent waste crime.”

Key elements of the duty of care include:

  • Correct classification (hazardous / non-hazardous).
  • Secure on-site storage.
  • Accurate description on transfer.
  • Waste transfer and consignment notes completed and retained.
  • Registered carrier used.
  • Treatment at permitted facility.
  • Checks and audits.

Sue Gregson, Environmental Consultant at International Workplace, commented:

“Waste crime is having a big economic impact.  The upsurge in waste crime and increased enforcement by the Environment Agency has highlighted the need for organisations to understand the scope of their responsibilities under ‘duty of care’ legislation in order to avoid prosecution and costly clean-up costs. This awareness campaign will be a useful tool, particularly for smaller businesses.”

International Workplace offers a range of IEMA accredited courses which can help your organisation avoid the risk of non-compliance with waste and other environmental legislation. View them here.