The waste and recycling industry generates approximately £12 billion per annum in the UK but the industry is coming under an ever increasing threat from illegal waste sites. Consequently the Environment Agency (EA) is becoming tougher in its fight against waste crimes. Waste crimes are committed when individuals do not deal with waste in accordance with the law and in doing so cause harm to other people and the environment. Waste management law seeks to regulate the production, re-use, recycling, recovery and disposal of waste in order to protect human health and the environment. The EC Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) defines waste as “any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard”.
Sites are considered to be illegal if they do not have a permit or do not meet certain legal requirements, such as registering as a waste exemption (details of which can be found on the EA website). The first line of attack against waste crimes comes from Local Authorities who are responsible for dealing with smaller-scale and less organised illegal activities, such as fly-tipping. The EA’s recent Waste Crime Report published in October 2013 highlighted that 1,279 illegal waste sites were closed in the last year which sees a jump of 70% since the previous year. It is estimated that illegal activity on illegal waste sites were stopped every 90 minutes with 28% of the sites dealing with construction and demolition waste.
Mr Crocker, the EA’s head of waste, said a more proactive approach of targeting serious offenders, rather than reacting to reports of crime, was the reason successful prosecution numbers had fallen to 171 last year, down from 249 the previous year.
Once the EA finds illegal activities have occurred there are a number of prosecution outcomes available which include issuing formal cautions; imposing a range of fines; and issuing custodial sentences. The EA is also able to seek a Confiscation Order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). This means that the Courts have the power to remove an offender’s assets where those assets have been gained as a result of crime. The Courts take a strict approach where offenders fail to comply with a Confiscation Order.
Truro Crown Court recently found a local family guilty of a number of waste crimes which included illegal dumping of waste at their farm and the failure to obtain planning permission and permits to dispose waste within a wildlife site. The Court decided that the income generated from the illegal activities was to be repaid by the family with the grand total being £365,275.
The failure to comply with a Confiscation Order can lead to custodial sentences. In another instance a man from Berkshire ran an illegal waste site and was ordered to repay a hefty fine of £881,513. This has been the largest proceeds of crime sum secured by the EA under the POCA. However the offender later attempted to flee the country in a bid to avoid paying the fine and was consequently sentenced to prison for 1,211 days.
It is clear that the EA will continue with its battle against waste crime and the Courts will provide assistance when sentencing those found guilty. Therefore, given the number of recent publicised cases, it is important for individuals to ensure that consideration is given to all the necessary legal requirements in order to obtain permits. The failure to do so may mean that those individuals will become another example of the EA’s crackdown.