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Preventing, detecting and deterring waste crime

06 March 2019

Despite the Environmental Services Association and others' success in encouraging greater Government focus on tackling waste crime over the last few years, it remains a major problem for the UK. Sam Corp, head of regulation at ESA, explains more

Waste crime damages the environment, causes distress to communities, and costs the taxpayer up to £1 billion each year. Previous Government action, including providing increased funding and enforcement powers to the regulators, has yet to have a real impact, and if anything the problem appears to be getting worse not better, as highlighted by the Environmental Services Association's (ESA) 2017 ‘Rethinking Waste Crime’ report and as reflected in the 2018 Government ‘Serious and Organised Waste Crime review’. 

So against this sobering context ESA was encouraged to see that the Resources and Waste Strategy does set out some genuinely positive policy proposals to ramp up the fight against waste crime, encompassed within the Government’s new strategic ‘Prevent, Detect, Deter’ approach to tackling waste crime. 


Government plans to prevent waste crime and poor performance focus on ensuring that the regulatory framework is robust, driving up standards in the sector and ensuring intelligence is shared effectively. Notably, the Strategy promises further consultation on reforms to the ‘carrier, broker dealer’ and duty of care regimes in late 2019, to ensure that all waste is only carried, brokered or dealt by bona fide, properly regulated companies. Such reforms are precisely what ESA and others have been calling for, so it is essential this consultation leads to real changes in these regimes in order to keep waste out of the hands of waste criminals and so that, for example, householders and businesses can actually have confidence that the ‘registered waste carrier’ they use, will act responsibly. 


Detecting waste criminal activity and closing illegal sites down rapidly are vital for the sake of the environment and blighted local communities, but also to enable legitimate waste business to operate on a level playing field. We therefore welcome Government proposals to take swifter action to detect and close down illegal activity by using improved data and analytical techniques, such as mandating digital recording of waste transfers. Proposals to encourage a more joined up enforcement approach also make sense, through the proposals for a Joint Unit for Waste Crime, to enable better multiagency sharing of intelligence and data. The Government also proposes further consultation on bolstering the Environment Agency’s powers to ensure it is equipped to deal with the threat of serious and organised gangs.  


There is also growing evidence of serious, organised criminals getting increasingly involved in waste crime due to potentially high rewards combined with the low risk of getting caught and the low penalties associated with waste crime prosecutions.    

Therefore, probably one of the most effective deterrent methods would be to impose tougher penalties. The Strategy rightly points out that much more could be done to strengthen sentences, particularly in the magistrates court, by improving awareness of magistrates so that the seriousness of waste crime activities is properly reflected in sentences handed down. 

It is also important to continue to raise awareness of legal responsibilities for producers of waste such that waste is not inadvertently, or otherwise, handed to criminals. I was therefore pleased that the Strategy committed support to ESA’s ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ (rightwasterightplace.com) campaign. Ensuring waste producers are aware of their Duty of Care’ will help cut off the flow of waste to criminals as well as ensuring their own companies are compliant. 

The Strategy also touches on the need to ensure adequate funding for regulators, but is perhaps a little light on detail as to how this might happen. We look forward to further discussions with Government to help flesh this out.    

So ‘Prevent, Detect, Deter’ is certainly effective as a strategic aim and nicely encompasses all that ESA and others have been clamouring for over many years. But will it have the impact we are hoping for? And will it happen soon enough? To a large extent this will depend on the outcomes of proposed consultations and adherence to the milestones highlighted in the Strategy. It will also very much depend on how effective the regulators are in practical and effective implementation of some of the measures outlined in the strategy. 

Of course, ESA will continue to work closely with Government, regulators and other stakeholders to help ensure that these strategic aims are translated into policy and regulation that has a real and lasting impact on tackling waste crime.