Crackdown on illegal waste exports

Buoyed up by the successful prosecution of a major waste operator, the Environment Agency has issued a warning to would-be waste crooks, telling them to play by the rules or face the consequences.

Last Thursday Grosvenor Waste Management Ltd (GWM) was fined £55,000 and agreed to pay £85,000 costs at Maidstone Crown Court for illegally transporting household waste for processing in developing countries in South East Asia

Grosvenor handles huge quantities of household recyclable waste from London and the Home Counties.

Back in February the company pleaded guilty to six counts relating to illegally exporting shipments of between 83 and 95 40-foot containers, amounting to approximately 1,800 tonnes of unsorted household waste to India, China, and Indonesia.

The prosecution followed a two-year investigation by the Environment Agency.

“This is one of the largest cases if its kind and shows we won’t hesitate to pursue companies who export waste illegally,” said John Burns, the EA’s ports project manager.

“There is a legitimate and growing market abroad for recyclables, but there are rules covering waste exports and these need to be adhered to for the benefit of the environment here and abroad.”

The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing the regulation of shipments of waste into and out of England and Wales under the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations.

“Under the rules, it’s illegal for anyone to export waste for disposal, but items such as waste paper or glass can be sent abroad for recycling,” said Mr Burns.

“However, mixed municipal waste, is subject to stricter controls under the EU Waste Shipment Regulations which means that we and the country of destination need to be notified and approve the shipment before it can go abroad.

Mr Burns claimed that the waste Grosvenor was sending abroad contained a poorly sorted mixture of waste including nappies, food waste, textiles, cardboard, plastic drink bottles, tin cans, sealed council recycling bags, and black plastic bags but according to the company’s lawyers the court hearing made it clear that the material concerned consisted soley of recyclables.

All of the material was to be and ultimately was recycled no environmental harm had occurred.

It was established that the problems occurred over a very short, three day period during a busy Christmas period and once it became aware of the problem Grosvenor took action to address it as soon as possible.

“Environment Agency officers inspecting the containers detained at Southampton and Dutch officers inspecting the containers detained in Holland all recalled the waste as smelling of household waste,” said Mr Burns.

“In one container Dutch officers saw what looked like an animal’s hind quarter.”

The Environment Agency also served Grosvenor a notice to repatriate the 20 containers that were shipped to Indonesia on 13 June 2005. Despite this request to return the waste to the UK, it ended up being shipped to Malaysia in July 2005.

Under the Regulations, the maximum penalty for exporting waste illegally is an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

Sam Bond

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