26 November 2018 by Elizabeth Slow

Environment Agency facing huge ‘freeriders’ backlog

EXCLUSIVE: Just one company has been listed by the Environment Agency as having made a financial contribution for a packaging regulation breach from 1 June to 19 October 2018.

This is despite what is understood to be a large backlog of over 700 suspected “freeriders”, with about 70 businesses added to an Agency checklist in the last 12 months.

More than £2.2 million was paid for environmental offences but this included just one packaging regulations breach

Angel Springs

In its latest list of companies making financial contributions under the enforcement undertakings regime, the only agreement involved Angel Springs Holdings Limited (now rebranded as Waterlogic) – a provider of drinking water solutions – gave £24,329 to the Marine Conservation Society for “not taking reasonable steps to recover and recycle packaging waste”.

According to the Environment Agency, the company’s offences were failure to register and failure to take reasonable steps to recover and recycling packaging waste.

The money will be used to support the charity’s ‘Bincentives’ litter campaign in schools and through social media.

Undertakings

The undertakings scheme allows businesses to avoid possible court action and instead make voluntary donations instead if they have breached, or appear likely to have breached, environmental regulations. More than £2.2 million of payment by companies and individuals for environmental offences were made, primarily for water-related activities from  June and October 2018.

Packaging

However, in a letter sent to the packaging sector last month – and seen by letsrecycle.com – the Environment Agency reveals that there are currently 718 suspected packaging freeriders that have been identified/reported.

“We are in the process of risk profiling these businesses to ensure that we target those companies that pose the greatest risk of non-compliance,” Jonathan Coldicott, senior technical officer at the Environment Agency said. But, Mr Coldicott gave no indication that the Agency would step up the pace in terms of tackling freeriders.

Compliance

In terms of the low number of settlements in relation to breaches of packaging regulation, Robbie Staniforth, chair of the Packaging Scheme Forum (PSF) told letsrecycle.com that companies are reluctant to come forward to say they have not been conforming to the packaging waste regulations.

Mr Staniforth explained that the majority of settlement agreements are the result of companies joining compliance schemes and informing the EA that they have not complied with the packaging regulations, rather than the Agency actively “knocking doors”.

The reason for the backlog is that the system of reporting missed compliance is “bureaucratic and burdensome,” Mr Staniforth said, with little incentive for businesses to hold their hands up.

“We’re working with the EA to try to speed up the process for where the Environment Agency is undertaking enforcement sanctions,” he added.

“We’re working with the EA to try to speed up the process for where the Environment Agency is undertaking enforcement sanctions.”

Robbie Staniforth
Packaging Scheme Forum

And, Mr Staniforth explained “there’s not that much money in it” for compliance schemes signing up freerider companies. “It takes too long – we need to make it easier and simpler.”

PSF had a meeting with the EA in December 2017 about simplifying the process, although he revealed not much has changed over that time. Mr Staniforth suggested that templating and offering incentives for companies to come forward would be improvements to the process.

Waste

Aside from packaging, the latest list of enforcement agreeements saw two of note for the waste sector. Recycling firm Remondis UK Limited, will contribute £5,000 to Mersey Forest Foundation for failure to comply with a permit condition for waste operation.

And, Dorset Waste Partnership is to receive £400,000 as a financial contribution from Wessex Water Services Limited, following an environmental offense involving sewage spills at Swanage in Dorset. The payment will fund the development of a doorstep recycling service for domestic fat, oil and grease.

In total, there were 15 enforcement undertakings.

Despite the slow pace of action in the packaging waste sector, Peter Kellett director of legal services from the Environment Agency said: “We take these environmental incidents very seriously and these payments of more than £2.2 million direct to charities will help them carry out vital projects to improve our environment right across England.”

PRN system

Earlier this year the Environment Agency’s work with regard to the PRN system was subject to a report by the National Audit Office.

The NAO noted that the Agency had made 124 compliance visits compared to a targeted 346 and just 3 announced visits.

Responding to the points raised, an Environment Agency spokesperson at the time said: “We have a strong track record of using enforcement to bring businesses back into compliance. Since 2011, we have brought 258 businesses into compliance by using Civil Sanctions which has resulted in a combined financial payment of over £5 million to environmental causes.”

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