The arrests were carried out across five sites in England and follow an eight month investigation by the Environment Agency into tyre fraud.

The illegal operators are suspected of dumping tyres and sending them abroad to be sent to landfill, which is illegal.

There are strict rules on the disposal of tyres. They do not decompose and if burned can release toxic fumes into the air. Tyres must be recycled in the UK or exported to an operator abroad who will accept waste tyres for recovery and recycling.

Of the 49 million tyres produced every year in the UK, around 25% are suitable for reuse as second-hand tyres and 6% are used to make retread tyres.

Another 25% are burned for energy under strict environmental controls. The remainder, are: recycled into products as diverse as drainage systems, sound barriers, sporting surfaces and consumer applications (e.g. underlay, footwear, rubber tiles and pencil cases); and are used to engineer landfill lining.

Environment Agency National Crime Team manager, Andy Higham, said: “The UK produces almost 50 million used tyres every year and it is now illegal to send them to landfill – they should be recycled here in the UK.

“But our intelligence suggests that illegal operators are charging tyre fitters to recycle old tyres here in the UK and then illegally exporting them overseas to avoid the recycling costs.

“As well as forcing other countries to deal with our waste, this practice also undermines legitimate tyre recycling businesses here in the UK.

“To export tyres that are not UK road legal and are therefore waste, exporters must check that the country of destination will accept waste tyres for recovery and recycling.

“The law is clear – it is always illegal to export waste from the UK to be dumped overseas.”

The Environment Agency is working with the waste recovery and recycling industry to improve compliance with regulations and stop tyres ‘leaking’ from the legitimate system.

Alison Brown

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie