New powers to tackle the “serious problem” of waste crime are set to be granted to the Environment Agency, environment minister Therese Coffey has announced.
And, the announcement yesterday comes in conjunction with the launch of a consultation by Defra on further action to crack-down on illegal sites which will include possible new powers for local authorities to fine householders for using illegal operators.
The consultation raises the idea that local authorities could get the option to fine householders who fail to use licensed businesses to dispose of their waste when it ends up fly-tipped or illegally dumped. This would avoid having to pursue residents through the courts.
More imminently, subject to parliamentary approval, the Environment Agency (EA) will be able to lock the gates or block access to problem waste sites to prevent waste illegally building up. Legislative changes will also enable the EA to force operators to clear all the waste at a problem waste site, not just the illegal waste.
The new Agency powers are to be introduced by spring 2018, subject to the parliamentary approval. This follows a public consultation in which 90% of respondents, said Defra, were in favour of allowing regulators to take physical steps to prevent operators from accepting more illegally dumped waste.
According to Defra, waste crime cost the English economy more than £600m in 2015, including lost landfill tax revenues and clean-up costs.
It creates “severe problems” for people who live or work nearby with odour, dust, litter, vermin, fly infestations, pollution and fires. Waste criminals also undercut genuine businesses who dispose of waste responsibly, the government said.
In terms of the waste sector and licensing, the proposals include “raising the bar required to hold EA waste permits, and putting a stop to criminals hiding their illegal activities by requiring them to register low-risk waste operations which are currently exempt from the need to hold a permit”.
The latest government statistics show that some of the worst hit areas include London which saw over 360,000 fly-tipping incidents last year and the North West of England which saw 128,000 incidents in 2016/17.
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: “Waste crime and fly-tipping blight our communities and spoil our countryside, and we need determined action to tackle it.
“These new powers for the Environment Agency will curb the rise of waste sites that continue to operate outside the law.
“But we must all take responsibility for our waste to make sure it does not end up in the hands of criminals who will wilfully dump it. Our new consultation looks more widely at the waste sector and we are keen to hear from industry and the public how we can improve performance, tackle illegality and protect our precious environment.”
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “We welcome these new powers, which will enable our teams to block access to problem sites, preventing illegal waste building up and becoming even more serious.
“This will allow us to take faster action against criminals and will make a real difference to communities, but everyone has a role to play. We all need to check our waste is going to the right place and is handled by the right people.”