Waste crimes: increasing fines for businesses
UK commercial and industrial sectors generated 27.7 million tonnes of waste in 2014, of which 19.8 million tonnes was in England, according to the latest DEFRA statistics. A little more than half of this waste was commercial waste in both the UK and England.
But it seems, this waste is frequently not being disposed of properly or legally. For the 2015/16 year, DEFRA says, local authorities dealt with 936,000 incidents of fly-tipping in England, ranging in size from single black bags to tipper lorry loads.
The cost of clearance of fly tipping incidents was £49.8m, the most common size being equivalent to a ‘small van load’.
As well as being guilty of illegally disposing of waste themselves, businesses are also becoming the victims of illegal waste being dumped on their land. The Environment Agency advises:
“Businesses are targeted by criminals looking to dispose of waste illegally by dumping it in warehouses, mills and open spaces. These criminals can be persuasive, convincing landowners to give them access to property, which they then fill with waste and abandon, leaving the landowner with an expensive clearance bill.”
Illegal waste disposal is on the increase, in a range of forms, with businesses hit with significant fines and prison sentences as a result. Below are some recent key cases:
- Earlier this month, Thames Water was fined a record £20m for pumping human waste into the River Thames and its tributaries over several months in 2013 and 2014. The company admitted 13 breaches of environmental laws, which have had a devastating impact on the environment, killing animals and putting fishermen out of business.
- A skip hire boss has been ordered to pay back cash after he was found to have profited from illegal waste crime by almost £1m. Raymond Shepherd, who ran Albert Hill Skip Hire in Darlington, was convicted following two separate trials of operating a waste facility without a permit, depositing waste without a permit and failing to comply with a suspension notice. Shepherd could have to pay back £980,207 under the Proceeds of Crime Act – the agreed sum of his criminal activities – if he comes into future assets, and he was jailed for 18 months. He was also disqualified from being a company director for ten years. The case has also resulted in two other men receiving suspended prison sentences and Albert Hill Skip Hire Ltd being fined £100,000.
- Waste firm Associated Waste Management Ltd has been fined £125,000 for causing odour pollution at its sites in Leeds and Bradford. The Environment Agency prosecuted the company following repeated odour problems from the waste that had a detrimental effect on local residents and led to numerous complaints. AWM was fined £75,000 for the Leeds offence, and £50,000 for the Bradford offence. It was also ordered to pay £75,000 in legal costs.
- Environment Agency enforcement officers earlier this year paid unannounced visits to 14 sites across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Hampshire and West Berkshire in a bid to stamp out waste crime. Officers targeted sites suspected of operating in the waste business without the required environmental permits, flouting the law and committing crime. Of the 14 sites visited, five were found to be operating illegally.
Helen Page, Enforcement Team Leader at the Environment Agency, said:
“We want to make sure the right waste goes to the right place – to protect the environment and local communities. Site visits on our days of action are just one of the ways we are tackling waste crime to help make sure this happens.”
Organisations handling, storing, transporting, treating and disposing of waste must be aware of a wide range of waste-related legislation to avoid prosecution.
Waste disposal costs have increased over recent years due both to the decreased landfill disposal capacity following implementation of the Landfill Directive, increased waste treatment costs and also to the increased data return fees that waste management contractors have to pay the Environment Agency. There is therefore a real financial gain to be made in effectively reducing and managing the disposal of wastes and in particular hazardous waste types.
Steps to consider in the overall process of waste generation through to disposal are outlined below.
Identify the types and sources of waste generated from your business.
Identify opportunities to reduce waste by applying the waste hierarchy, whereby reducing the use of materials in the first instance (prevention) is the preferred option.
Wastes should be appropriately and securely stored at all times.
Identify the most appropriate means of waste management.
Select authorised waste carriers and disposal contractors.
Maintain comprehensive records – all controlled waste transfers/movements, intermediate storage, recovery, or disposal must be accompanied by a waste transfer note (WTN) for non-hazardous wastes or a waste consignment note for hazardous wastes.