The number of waste businesses prosecuted by the Environment Agency rose in 2015 – despite an overall decline in prosecutions brought against companies for environmental offences.
And, between April 2015 and March 2016, EA officers shut down almost 1,000 illegal waste sites – more than in the previous two years combined.
Figures published by the Environment Agency today (22 September) reveal that 54 waste firms were prosecuted in 2015 – compared to 37 the previous year.
But, just 70 companies were prosecuted for environmental offences overall – 14% fewer than in 2014 and one which follows a year-on-year decline since 2007 when more than 300 prosecutions were handed down.
A continued decrease in prosecutions has long been blamed on government cuts to the Environment Agency which has seen a reduction in resources to investigate permit breaches and carry out enforcement. But in November 2015, then deputy director of Illegals and Waste Matt Crocker asserted the organisation’s efforts to tackle waste crime had not been undermined (see letsrecycle.com story).
The latest figures reveal the extent to which waste crime has become a major enforcement issue for the Environment Agency.
The waste industry in England holds over 11,000 Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) permits issued by the Environment Agency; 81% of all EPR permits issued. Sites can hold more than one permit.
In 2015/16 the organisation found over 1,000 new illegal waste sites and shut down the same amount – more than in the previous two years. More than 50% of new illegal waste sites were stopped from operating within 90 days.
Illegal exports of waste have also become a priority issue in recent years, with officers carrying out 1,388 container inspections prior to export in 2015/16 compared to just 167 three years’ previously.
However, the Environment Agency estimates that illegal exports of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and household waste fell by 17% between 2014 and 2016 with a net benefit of £2.75 million to the UK economy.
Many of the companies prosecuted in 2015 were done so for multiple offences, and fines for those involved in waste activities also rose sharply from 12% to 19% in 2015, totalling £707,000. This is an increase of £324,000 on total fines handed out for illegal waste activities in 2014.
The steeper penalties could be influenced by sentencing guidelines which were issued to criminal courts in 2014. This has provided a tariff to indicate the level of penalty based on the seriousness of the offence as well as the turnover and profit of the organisation involved (see letsrecycle.com story).
While waste company prosecutions were up in 2015, so are the number of enforcement notices served. The Agency notes: “We issued over 200 enforcement notices to companies involved in waste activities in 2015. Almost 90% of these were to companies that we permit. Companies in the non-hazardous waste treatment sector received over half of all enforcement notices issued to companies.
“In 2015, 77% of companies receiving more than one caution or enforcement notice were involved in waste activities, compared to 64% in 2014.”