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Clock is ticking for waste criminals as new taskforce launched

22 January 2020

A new unit will bring together law enforcement agencies and UK environmental regulators to target waste criminals.

A new taskforce dedicated to tackling serious and organised waste crime, such as dumping hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported abroad to unsuspecting countries, was launched on 16 January 2020.

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) will, for the first time, bring together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HMRC and the National Crime Agency in the war against waste crime.

Serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600million a year and a 2018 Home Office review found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and, in some cases, modern slavery.

To tackle the growing trend in criminal waste networks, the new unit will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions and, upon conviction, push for heavy fines and custodial sentences.

By working together in this way, Joint Unit partners can more easily share their intelligence and resources to take swifter action when investigating criminal waste operations and other connected illegal activities, such as money laundering and human trafficking.

The new unit bolsters the Environment Agency’s (EA) existing efforts to tackle waste crime. Last year, the Agency’s dedicated team stopped illegal waste activity at 912 sites - 12 per cent more than the previous year. As a result of prosecutions taken by the EA, businesses and individuals were fined almost £2.8 million for environmental offences in 2018.

Toby Willison, chair of the JUWC Board, said: "The war against waste crime just took a giant step forward. The launch of this new unit means we now have a full complement of partners across law enforcement as well as our counterparts in Scotland and Wales to bring down waste criminals for good.

"We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment. These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights."

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime is one of a number of initiatives in the government’s landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, which is focused on tackling waste crime and driving up levels of performance in the industry.

Welcoming the new unit, Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, said: "Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.

"Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action. The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation."

Since 2015, six legislative changes have been made to enable the EA to take tougher action against waste criminals. This includes the Agency having the power to restrict access to problem waste sites by locking gates and barring access. Environment Agency waste crime budgets have also risen by £60m for 2014-22.