Sentencing guidelines were published in February by the Sentencing Council, covering offences related to the disposal and treatment of waste covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.
Publication of the guidelines followed a public consultation in 2013, which saw input from the waste industry, local authorities, judges and magistrates (see letsrecycle.com story). Separate guidance has been issued to courts for determining punishments for businesses and for individuals.
It is the first time that magistrates have been encouraged to make more use of the highest level of fines for some of the more serious offences that come before the courts.
Courts have been told to determine fines for businesses and organisations on a sliding scale, with the most serious offences, which include mishandling of hazardous or chemical waste or those which incur major clean-up costs facing the largest fines.
Large firms which are deliberately found to have breached the law could face fines of up to 3 million for these offences, while small firms with a turnover of up to 10 million face fines of up to 400,000.
Maximum sentences to be handed out for waste crimes
Offences including fly-tipping, waste handling or disposal offences where a company or individuals cause pollution or harm to peoples health, or the risk of it are likely to be punished more strictly by courts. Other offences covered include breaches of waste permits and any breach of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations.
The guideline also covers nuisance offenders such as those who cause noise, smoke, dust or smells, or run premises which pose a health or pollution risk.
In March, the Environmental Services Education Trust (ESAET) claimed that illegal waste activities cost the UK economy as much as 800 million per year (see letsrecycle.com story). Recognising the threat of waste crime to the UK economy, the government made an extra 5 million available to tackle the problem in its Spring Budget.