Biffa found guilty in ‘mixed paper’ exports case

On 23 July, a jury at Wood Green Crown Court, London, found Biffa Waste Services Ltd guilty on four counts relating to the export of waste paper for recovery to India and Indonesia.

In a statement yesterday evening, Biffa reasoned that no public interest had been served in bringing the legal action as the case had established that the paper the company sent for export was over 99% pure.

During the trial, which began at the start of July and was held at Hendon Magistrates Court, the court heard that Environment Agency officers prevented the export of several containers described as mixed waste paper from Southampton to India and Indonesia in late 2018 and early 2019.

Edmonton

Biffa was found guilty by a majority of 10 to 1

The material held within the containers originated from Biffa’s materials recycling facility in Edmonton, North London.

Agency officers were concerned by the level of contamination held within the waste paper bales. The contamination included items such as  nappies, textiles, coat hangers and assorted plastic waste.

The officers believed the level of contamination was such that what the containers held should be classified as household waste, the export of which is not permitted to non-OECD countries.

De minimis

Biffa, who pleaded not guilty, said the contamination was at a de minimis level, meaning the paper could still be shipped as ‘green list’ waste.

However, the waste management giant was found guilty of four counts of transporting waste for recovery in a country to which the OECD decision does not apply, contrary to regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

Trial

After more than seven and a half hours of deliberation across two days, the jury returned a majority verdict of 10 to one for all counts.

The judge, Shane Collery QC, previously stated that he wanted a unanimous decision, but was forced to reconsider after the jury was unable to reach a consensus.

A verdict was anticipated on 22 July, but the jury requested photos of officers pulling the bales apart to see whether they had managed to extract all the contaminants at the core. Giving evidence, one officer described the centre of some the bales as being like “papier-mache”, making it impossible to remove everything.

Sentencing, also to take place in Hendon, was provisionally set for 30 July 2021.

China

This is not the first time 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 story).

‘Export is essential’

In the wake of the 23 July verdict, a Biffa spokesperson said: “No public interest has been served by the Environment Agency in bringing this prosecution. The UK does not have the infrastructure to recycle all of the wastepaper that householders send for recycling, meaning export is essential to avoid having to landfill or incinerate this valuable resource.

‘Biffa no longer exports wastepaper outside the OECD but the industry overall has no choice but to do so’

“The case established that the paper we were sending for export was over 99% pure. This is no different from the waste paper that is recycled in the UK. It would have been used as raw material to make cardboard packaging. The recycling industry has tried to engage with the Environment Agency on developing standards for export that reflect the realities of recycling that it can be measured against, but the Agency has not cooperated.”

The spokesperson added: “Biffa no longer exports wastepaper outside the OECD but the industry overall has no choice but to do so. We urgently request that a set of coherent policies are put in place that either put exports on a stable footing or stimulate the necessary investment in the UK so that it is no longer needed.”

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