Weak regulation of an “out of date” waste management system has allowed waste crime, through activities such as fly-tipping and illegal exports of waste, to flourish in the UK, according to research.

The report, released today (2 May), claims that a licence to carry waste can be obtained easily through a small online fee, while waste carriers that operate without permits are rarely inspected. There is no way to track commercial waste from its production through to its end destination, the study said.

The report was commissioned by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), which calls for an overhaul of the waste management system to protect legitimate businesses and the environment.

“Despite additional funding for regulators and stronger enforcement powers, waste crime is more entrenched than ever,” ESA executive director Jacob Hayler said. “Clearly, we need a different approach which targets the underlying causes of crime in our sector and which roots out the prevailing culture which allows waste crime to flourish. This report highlights the weakness in the current regime and puts forward ambitious recommendations aimed at stopping waste crime once and for all.”

‘Easy ride’

The waste sector, which delivers an estimated £6.6m of value to the UK economy, has “changed beyond all recognition in the last few years”, the report said. But according to consultancy firm Eunomia, which authored the report, regulators have been “under-resourced” and encouraged to take a “light-touch approach” in order to be business friendly.

“Ironically, this is actually harming the interests of legitimate waste businesses while giving criminals an easy ride,” Eunomia Managing Director Mike Brown said. “The solution isn’t to abandon the progress we’ve made, but to modernise regulation to support our increasingly circular economy.”

The report recommends beefed up enforcement which bans serious and repeat waste crime offenders. It also advises that new sources of funding from criminals are secured for the Environmental Agency (EA). The “survival” of the UK’s resource and waste management industry also depends on a new inspection regime for waste sites and improved cross-regulation cooperation, the report said.

Crime against resource efficiency

Industry groups have often been left frustrated by the Government’s alleged decision to overlook waste crime. This was reflected in Defra’s five-year environmental policy, which provided only one mention of the development of new approaches to tackle waste crime in the entire 4,400-word plan.

The Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM) last week cited waste crime as a key focus area in its ‘Resource Productivity Manifesto’ in the build up to the General Election. The industry body called on all major political parties to pledge to tackle waste crime by strengthening awareness of the legal obligations among businesses and making the use of electronic duty of care systems compulsory for all waste producers and handlers.

Better progress appears to be taking shape across the border, where the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s (SEPA’s) new regulation strategy has placed a strong emphasis on the need for partnerships with other enforcement agencies to disrupt serious organised waste crime.

The business community has taken it upon itself to lead the waste management agenda, with a host of major companies announcing waste-to-landfill diversion successes in recent times. The world’s biggest furniture retailer Ikea sent zero-waste-to-landfill across all of its UK and Ireland facilities in 2016, with similar achievements made by multinational firms Mars and Ford last year.

George Ogleby

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