Waste crime costs surge by over 50% in just three years

23rd July 2021

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  • Waste ,
  • England ,
  • Environmental Agencies ,
  • UK government



The total cost of waste crime in England has increased by 53% in just three years, and now costs the country nearly £1bn annually, a recent study has uncovered.

In a report published yesterday, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) reveals that the cost of waste-related crime in England rose from £604m in 2015 to more than £924m in 2018/19.

When the available data for England is scaled and applied to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the estimated cost to the UK rises to well above £1bn.

The two most costly forms of waste crime to England’s economy are fly-tipping, which has risen from £209m to over £392m annually since 2015, and the operation of illegal waste sites, which accounts for an estimated £236m, up from £98m.

The researchers said that there has been an increase in the number of recorded waste crime incidents taking place across the country, which can range from fly-tipping, illegal dumping and uncontrolled burning of rubbish, through to major export fraud and tax evasion.

This come after a recent national YouGov poll found that just 46% of people know what their legal responsibilities are for waste disposal, and that 70% are unaware that they could be prosecuted if they fail to make the required checks and their waste ends up being fly-tipped by a third party.

“Waste criminals are exploiting a lack of public awareness and lack of regulatory oversight in this area, which has led to an increase in fly-tipping and illegal waste sites,” said Gavin Graveson, chair of the ESA.

“Although understandably delayed by the pandemic, it is now vital that the government proceeds at pace with long-promised reforms of the regulatory regime and we must make it much harder for criminals to operate in the recycling and waste sector.”

Total costs identified in the study are based on the impact to the public sector (such as loss of tax), costs to the private sector (such as loss of revenues) and costs to the wider environment, offset by any revenue arising from fines and any value in recovered waste.

In response, the ESA report calls on the government to:

  • Tighten the entry requirements for waste carriers, brokers and dealers to prevent criminals from accessing the sector
  • Bolster duty of care enforcement to stop criminals from being able to access, store or process waste illegally
  • Increase funding for the Environment Agency and Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) in the longer term – the Environment Agency’s current waste crime enforcement budget is just 3% of the total cost of dealing with consequences of waste crime
  • Introduce new waste crime reporting to better record and track the scale and impact of waste crime across the country
  • Levy fines and penalties that better reflect both the considerable financial gains made by waste criminals and the significant harm caused to the environment and local communities.

Sam Taylor, principal consultant at Eunomia, which carried out the study for the ESA, said: “Waste crime is a blight on our neighbourhoods and environment. Our research has shown a worrying trend in increasing costs of waste crime when the government is working hard to promote resource efficiency and move towards a more circular economy in England.

“It’s absolutely vital that waste crime is monitored accurately and the waste sector is supported by a robust regulatory regime.”

Image credit: iStock

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