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Shocking Waste Crime: 20% of England’s Waste Disposal is Illegal

England is grappling with a significant waste crime problem. Recent findings from the Environment Agency (EA) indicate that nearly a fifth of all waste in the country, totalling approximately 34 million tonnes, is handled illegally every year. This constitutes a diverse range of illicit activities, including dumping, burning, illegal shipping, the false representation of waste, and the operation of unlawful waste sites.

Limited Deterrents for Illegal Dumping

The national waste crime survey conducted by the EA has disclosed that the agency’s deterrent measures against these criminals are perceived as less effective than required. The survey report pointedly stated, “The perception that the EA provides an effective deterrent is low, primarily due to perceived inadequate reporting mechanisms and unsatisfactory enforcement responses.”

As a result of these perceived shortcomings, the survey discovered that a mere 25% of waste crime incidents are reported to the EA. This figure paints a stark picture of the scale of unreported waste crimes, hampering the agency’s ability to take appropriate action.

While the EA is generally regarded as knowledgeable, it is seen as “unable to provide a consistently effective response or visible deterrent,” due to what survey respondents consider as an insufficient resource allocation relative to the size of the issue. However, the EA has expressed its intent to use these survey findings as a guide to shape its strategic response to waste crime.

Business Waste Crime’s Financial Impact

Survey participants have reported that the financial implications of business waste crime have significantly increased compared to prior years. On average, 26% of those who have fallen victim to waste crime have incurred costs exceeding £50,000 within the last year.

The total annual economic cost of waste crime in England is a staggering £1bn, according to the EA. This figure encapsulates evaded tax, environmental damage, social harm, and the revenue lost by legitimate waste management businesses.

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the EA prosecuted 94 cases against individuals and businesses for waste crime offences, amassing over £6.2m in fines.

Steve Molyneux, the EA’s strategic lead on waste regulation, pointed out, “The EA is facing well-resourced, highly organised criminals whose crimes stretch beyond the waste sector to include human trafficking, drugs and money laundering.”

The War on Waste Crime

Molyneux further stated that in 2021, the EA introduced a new enforcement strategy with an emphasis on prevention. This approach has led to fewer significant prosecutions for waste crimes since the agency now intervenes earlier in the process. As part of its new approach, the EA has harnessed resources like police databases, drones, mandatory digital waste tracking, and an impending reform to the carriers, brokers, and dealers regime.

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, commented, “The survey response reinforces the fact that waste crime is widespread and underscores the need for effective and well-resourced enforcement alongside tougher penalties for those successfully prosecuted.”

Let’s Recycle It

Specialising in plastic waste management across the UK and Ireland, Let’s Recycle It argues that there are many ways to combat waste crime. We believe that another solution to these pressing issues lies in policy changes and cooperation from all parties involved in the recycling and waste management industries.

Let’s Recycle It calls for the government to introduce legislation that mandates manufacturers to design their products with recyclability in mind. The government should also require waste producers to engage with only fully transparent and accredited recyclers. Implementing these legislative changes would ensure that all waste is appropriately managed and accounted for.

Furthermore, Let’s Recycle It stresses that the government should actively collaborate with the recycling industry to make ethical recycling practices as accessible as possible. This joint effort, we believe, can significantly contribute to combatting waste crime and ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.

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