Waste crime costs UK up to £808m a year, report suggests

Waste crime costs the UK economy more than £800m a year, according to new research.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust (ESAET), questions the logic of reducing funding to tackle waste crime when it has found that for every £1 spent on enforcement puts at least £3.20 back into Government coffers.

ESAET trustee Barry Dennis said: "We need to stop thinking about 'waste crime' as somehow being less important than other crimes. Fly-tipping, rogue waste operations and tax evasion via the misclassification of waste are crimes that create health risks for the public, are costing the taxpayer millions of pounds a year and are funding organised crime."

To tackle the problem, the ESAET and report authors Eunomia recommend that waste crime enforcement budgets be bolstered.

Although the ESAET welcomes the announcement last week by the Sentencing Council of an increase in fines for fly tipping and dumping waste, it believes this will only be effective if the Environment Agency has sufficient resources to pursue criminals.

According to ESAET, this is the first time that the total cost of waste crime has been calculated. The £808m figure is at the top of a range calculated by collating the costs of illegal waste sites, tax evasion by waste operators (who deliberately misclassify waste to avoid higher rates of landfill tax) and from the clean-up costs of fly-tipping.

Eunomia director and author of the report James Fulford said: "While waste crime can have serious environmental impacts, the motive is economic. It offers high rewards and relatively low risk of substantial penalty. It takes work away from legitimate, permitted waste operators, who therefore lose income. However, the profits come largely at the expense of the taxpayer."

In producing the report, Eunomia found several industry figures expressing concerns about the growth of a "culture of criminality" appearing in the waste sector. Fears are rising that the industry is an easy target for organised criminal gangs owing to the potential for huge profits and the inadequate deterrent provided by ineffective regulation and lenient sentencing.

Dennis explained: "We recognise the real pressure on government funds. However, our report clearly demonstrates how the cost of enforcement activity to stop waste crime will quickly pay for itself many times over, through increased tax income, reduced clean-up costs and a thriving legitimate waste sector.

"Seeing waste criminals held to account protects us all from environmental harm and economic disadvantage. The legitimate waste industry is ready to contribute and looks forward to addressing this issue together with government in a spirit of co-operation."
Speaking about the report, SITA UK chief executive and ESA chairman David Palmer-Jones added: "Waste crime is a man-made sore on the environment and is burning the economy to the tune of £800m a year. However, this situation is preventable with the right funding for enforcement measures.

"We have witnessed the damage caused by under-funding our defences against natural floods. The flood of waste crime is now rising too, but we can look to recycle a small portion of the landfill tax levied from legitimate residual waste disposal into strengthening waste crime defences and enforcement.

"With a return to the economy on waste crime enforcement of more than £5 for every £1 spent, not to increase the budget is a wasted opportunity."

Southwark Council, cabinet member for transport, environment and recycling, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, said: "The results of the report make for a worrying read, particularly the news that £808m is being spent dealing with waste crime.

"Locally, this is particularly troubling as councils such as Southwark are left footing a significant portion of the bill with increasingly tighter budgets.

"Last year alone we carried out over 3,000 investigations into fly-tipping which resulted in 938 FPNs being issued - a good result considering the time and effort it takes to identify a perpetrator. On the up side, the results mean that we are being proactive in dealing with the issue but on the reverse, we're devoting precious resources and money that we could be investing in other services.

"Nevertheless, we will continue with enforcement until we break the back of this problem, and persuade all residents to use our various waste and recycling services such as our free bulky waste collections instead of blighting the environment."

ESAET will be sending a copy the report to the Government and will be seeking discussions with the waste and resource management industry representatives, as well as relevant Government departments.

Liz Gyekye
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crime | residual waste | SITA


Waste & resource management
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