Biffa fined £1.5 million over paper exports to Asia

Biffa Waste Services Ltd has been ordered to pay £1.69 million after being found guilty of breaching regulations over the export of mixed paper to Asia in 2018 and 2019. 

The case was heard at Wood Green Crown Court sitting in Hendon

The penalty consists of a £1.5 million fine, a £38,388 confiscation order and £153,827 in costs, and comes after the case was brought by the Environment Agency against the waste management company. 

Shane Collery QC passed down the sentence at Wood Green Crown Court today (30 July), sitting at Hendon, after Biffa was found guilty by a jury a week ago (see letsrecycle.com story). 

The case was heard at Wood Green Crown Court sitting in Hendon

Summing up the case today, Judge Collery said: “The bales were skimmed milk masquerading as cream.”

He described Biffa’s claim that there was no public interest in bringing the case as “arrogant”.

Judge Collery added: “They had been convicted in 2019. It must have been obvious to the company in 2018 that they had to do demonstrably better than they had before.”

Containers

During the case, the court had heard that in 2018 and 2019, an investigation by the Agency prevented the export of 16 25-tonne containers holding more than 1,000 tonnes of mixed waste paper from Southampton to mills in Indonesia and India due to excessive levels of contamination.

Environment Agency picture showing some of the contamination

The waste management company reasoned that the paper was more than 99% pure. It was found to contain contaminants including nappies, tins, hairpieces, plastics, clothing and food packaging. 

Biffa, of Coronation Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, was convicted last week by a jury of four breaches of regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007. 

Infrastructure 

Following the company’s conviction, Biffa said the UK did not have the infrastructure to recycle all the waste paper householders sent for recycling. It said it no longer exported waste paper outside the OECD, but the industry overall “had no choice but to do so”. 

Biffa called for the government to introduce a set of “coherent policies” to put exports “on a stable footing” or to stimulate the necessary investment in the UK. And, it pointed out that the Environment Agency has not specified any de minimis level of contaminants and contrary material for exporters of waste paper for recycling.

‘Significant investigation’

In a statement published on 26 July after the jury’s verdict, Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency, welcomed the conviction. He said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision. We want all producers and waste companies to be responsible and make sure they only export material that can be legally and safely sent abroad for recycling. 

Malcolm Lythgo of the Environment Agency has said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision”

“Illegal waste exports blight the lives and environment of those overseas. The Environment Agency will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.” 

Mr Lythgo said the Agency prevented the illegal export of almost 23,000 tonnes of unsuitable waste in 2019/20. He added that the regulator was working with the government on several measures to tighten controls, including charging higher fees to improve compliance and the increased monitoring of international waste shipments. 

Stephen Young was lead enforcement officer on the case for the Agency. In a statement of his own, he said: “This was a significant and successful investigation into Biffa’s exports to Asia. The Environment Agency will continue to pursue operators who flout the law by sending household waste to developing countries.” 

China

It is the second time in two years that Biffa has been found guilty of exporting waste illegally to Asia. In June 2019, a jury found Biffa Waste Services Ltd guilty on two counts of breaching waste regulations for exporting material marked as ‘mixed paper’ to two mills in China in 2015.  

As a result, the waste management company was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £590,000 (see letsrecycle.com story ). 

Biffa appealed the conviction but was unsuccessful (see letsrecycle.com). 

Paper bale video

Below is a video of a paper bale produced by Biffa to illustrate the volume of material in a paper bale when spread out.

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