25 illegal waste sites closed every week
The Environment Agency (EA) has claimed that its two-year crusade to identify and shut down illegal waste sites is paying off.
Data released today, shows that 1,279 sites were closed in 2012-13. In 2011-12 the agency closed 670 such operations.
Construction and demolition waste was found at 25% of the sites, with a similar number carrying old vehicles.
The courts also confiscated over £1.3m last year from waste criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act, while the agency has spent £17m in the past year tackling waste crime.
However, it is estimated that such illegal activity diverts as much as £1bn every year from legitimate businesses and HM Treasury.
Experts involved in an extensive study of waste crime in the UK have told edie that it has taken time for illegal waste to be treated as an economic as well as environmental crime. The financial incentive to commit waste crime is now "greater than ever" they said.
The agency's Illegal Waste Sites Taskforce, which has been credited with much of the good work in the past year, will be disbanded in December.
Some £5m has been spent on the taskforce so far, which was launched on the back of increasing numbers of legitimate waste businesses reporting that they were being undercut by illegal sites.
EA director of environment and business, Ed Mitchell, said the results achieved by the agency are the "best yet", with intelligence having improved. He said "everyone" has a role to play in reducing illegal waste activities.
The report also shows that most illegal waste sites are now shut down within 12 months. "The two-year Illegal Waste Sites Taskforce has been hugely successful in slashing the number of illegal waste sites operating in England," said Mitchell.
Some of the major crimes stopped this year include illegal exports, serious dumping incidents and illegal waste sites where waste is burnt or buried with no environmental safeguards in place.
Significant prosecutions included a farmer who was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £7,284 in costs for illegally dumping up to 14,000 tyres on his farm in Ludlow, Shropshire.
However, more could be done to ensure that limited resources are targeted in the right areas.
Eunomia Research & Consulting director, James Fulford, is leading a new project just launched by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust to explore the extent and impact of waste crime.
He said: "The agency's report shows some notable successes, and everyone in the waste industry should welcome it when illegal operators are brought under regulation or shut down. However, the financial incentive to commit waste crime is now stronger than ever, and the scale of the waste crime problem outstrips the resources the agency has to investigate and prosecute those operating outside the law."
Fulford added that because waste policy has driven up the cost of disposal, making recycling and waste prevention economically attractive, it's opened up "a big potential black market" in the sector.
"Increasingly, the nature of waste crime is economic rather than environmental - but it's taking a while for everyone to wake up to how the situation has changed."