Organisations are being urged to ensure they know how their waste is being disposed of as the Environment Agency reveals that waste prosecutions and penalties increased dramatically in 2011
Convictions for serious waste offences in England and Wales last year were up 25% on 2010 figures, the Environment Agency has confirmed, and total fines increased by 45% to just over £1.7 million.
In the agency’s first annual report detailing how it is tackling waste offences, the regulator confirms that the largest fine issued in 2011 was £170,000 – more than three times as much as the severest penalty issued in 2010 – and that three times as many individuals were imprisoned for crimes related to waste disposal.
The agency also reveals that despite closing 670 large-scale illegal waste sites in the 12 months to March 2012, it has identified a further 1,175 sites where waste is being stored, treated and disposed of illegally.
The most common illegally disposed of waste is construction and demolition waste (32%), followed by household and commercial waste (23%) and scrap cars (22%). And 4% of illegal waste sites are working with hazardous materials and 2% with waste electrical and electronic equipment.
The report warns private and public sector organisations that they risk being prosecuted and fined if they fail to ensure their waste is being disposed of legally.
“We want to send a clear message to businesses, local authorities and householders: take responsibility for your waste and make sure that it doesn’t end up in the hands of illegal operators,” said Lord Smith, chair of the Environment Agency.
Organisations are reminded that they must ensure their waste is being removed by a licensed waste or recycling provider, as well as complete and keep the necessary waste transfer documentation for at least two years, to ensure they are legally compliant.
The agency’s report also highlights a sharp increase in the number of incidents of large-scale illegal dumping of waste in 2011/12 – 262 incidents up from approximately 140 in 2010/11. Construction waste made up 24% of these dumps, with 19% consisting of drums of chemicals, oils and fuel, and a further 10% of asbestos.
Alongside tackling construction and demolition waste and closing illegal waste sites, the agency confirms that investigating illegal waste exports is a key priority for the next 12 months. In the report, the agency admits that it does not know how much waste leaves England and Wales illegally and that it is committing extra resources to understanding the scale of the problem in 2012/13.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA), which represents the UK’s waste industry, congratulated the Environment Agency on its achievements in 2011, but agreed that more must be done.
“The fact that they have identified 1,175 [illegal waste sites] still in operation, shows that the efforts made so far need to be redoubled if we are to get on top of this scourge,” said Matthew Farrow director of policy at the ESA.
“It is vital the agency is adequately resourced and makes best use of the resources it does have to tackle waste crime. It is also important that the courts make full use of the powers available and impose sentences for environmental crimes which truly act as a deterrent.”