Waste crime ‘flourishing’ due to weak regulation, industry says

3rd May 2017


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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Public sector ,
  • Local government ,
  • Waste ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management

Author

Bartie Shirm

Gaps in regulation have increased the opportunities for waste crime, which is now costing the taxpayer more than £600m a year, according to the waste industry.

The industry report argues that in the past 20 years, the waste industry has changed beyond recognition but regulation has failed to keep up with developments, leaving criminals to exploit the gaps.

Waste trade body the Environmental Services Association (ESA) commissioned the report, which was written by environmental consultancy Eunomia. It found that most serious waste crime is generated by business, not households, and falls into six categories (see below).

Regulation is overwhelmingly focused on sites where waste management operations take place, while other parts of the waste management chain, such as waste carriers and brokers, are not subject to the same level of enforcement, the report points out.

For example, anyone can obtain a licence to carry waste by paying a small fee online, with minimal checks, and waste carriers or sites that are exempted from permits are rarely inspected. Also, there is no way to track commercial waste from production to end destination, the report notes.

It also says the competence of waste carriers, brokers and dealers is assumed and not tested, even though they carry out duties relating to classifying waste and ensuring that it is sent for authorised sites.

Fragmentation of the waste industry has extended the range of options for treating waste, but has made business transactions more complex, which has increased the risk of illegal activity occurring.

The report highlights the lack of resources for regulators to carry out effective enforcement, since costs for a large proportion of their work are not recovered from fees.

Regulatory regimes covering waste carriers and brokers do not levy annual fees and there is currently no system for inspections to be paid for by those being inspected. There is also no direct source of funding for inspections of waste producers or carriers under the Duty of Care regime, says the report.

The authors point out that, since grant funding for regulators has fallen every year, significant parts of the waste management system have been left largely unregulated.

The report makes 14 recommendations, under the following themes:

  • modernising the regulatory regime;
  • improving enforcement;
  • developing secure sources of funding for enforcement; and
  • improving cross-regulatory cooperation and raising awareness.

Mike Brown, managing director of Eunomia, said: ‘Regulators have been under-resourced and encouraged to take a light-touch approach in order to be business friendly. Ironically, this is actually harming the interests of legitimate waste businesses while giving criminals an easy ride. The solution isn’t to abandon the progress we’ve made, but to modernise regulation to support our increasingly circular economy.’

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the ESA, said that, despite additional funding and stronger enforcement powers for regulators, waste crime is more entrenched than ever: ‘We need a different approach which targets the underlying causes of crime in our sector and roots out the prevailing culture that allows waste crime to flourish.’

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