Saica Natur admits breaching waste exports rules

A recycling firm faces a huge fine after investigators found 1,200 tonnes of waste paper contaminated with soiled nappies and other household rubbish in 2016.

The paper from Croy usually went to Saica's mill at Partington, Manchester

Fifty one containers bound for China were intercepted by officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, writes our correspondent Mike McQuaid.

They discovered food waste, nappies, clothing, electrical equipment and children’s toys mixed with paper that should have been converted to cardboard.

Saica Natur, which has a processing plant at Croy in Lanarkshire, has admitted breaching international waste shipment regulations.

At a hearing last week, Joe Stewart, environmental crime prosecutor, told Airdrie Sheriff Court that paper waste was usually sent from Croy to the company’s recycling facility in Manchester.


However, a fire there in 2016 greatly reduced capacity and the Spanish-owned company arranged to export paper to China.

The offence arose because the consignment was so heavily contaminated it was classed as mixed waste.

The fire in 2016 caused considerable disruption at the Partington mill

China is not party to the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to reduce the movement of hazardous and other waste between nations. That means exporting mixed waste to China is illegal.

Mr Stewart stated: “SEPA officers visited the Croy depot in September 2016 and had concerns about the quality of paper waste.

“It was established that 48 containers were in transit to China, including 29 that had reached Belgium. Another three were at Grangemouth port.

“All of these containers were intercepted.”


Officers picked through bales of waste paper and found soiled nappies, food waste, electrical equipment, clothing and toys.

“While a small amount of contamination is to be expected,” SEPA officers said, “the level here went far beyond what could be acceptable.”

A small amount of contamination is to be expected… the level here went far beyond what could be acceptable.

Mr Stewart said the shipment involved 1,275 tonnes of waste and Saica Natur could have expected to make a profit of £22,000 on the transaction.

But because the containers were intercepted it incurred significant fees for additional transport and storage.

The prosecutor explained that SEPA investigators carried out a painstaking examination of the China-bound waste.

After raising concerns during a routine inspection at the Croy depot, they ordered the firm to halt all exports immediately.

All 51 containers were returned for testing.

The court heard there are usually 26 bales, each weighing about one tonne, in a container.


Investigators spent six months picking through bales. Sample testing showed a contamination level of 18-19 per cent. Although there is no legal limit, this was far above what is considered acceptable.

The company has no previous convictions. It had a UK turnover of £50 million in 2020 with a profit of nearly £4 million.

Its lawyer claimed there had been no attempt to cover up the true nature of the waste and stressed it was en route to “another facility” and wouldn’t have been dumped.

The lawyer added: “The company has taken this matter very seriously. Its standards slipped in this case.”

North Lanarkshire

North Lanarkshire Council, which has a contract to supply waste paper to Saica Natur, was concerned at what had happened. A spokesman said: “We will obviously be discussing the outcome of this case with the company directly.”

Saica Natur and SEPA were approached for comment but declined to discuss the case until after the company is sentenced.

Sheriff Fergus Thomson will sentence the firm next month. He has the power to impose an unlimited fine.

  • Note: The case involving Saica is the second major case involving larger companies and illegal waste exports this year with nappies being an issue in both instances. Biffa Waste Services was fined £1.5 million in July 2021 after being found guilty of breaching regulations over the export of mixed paper to Asia in 2018 and 2019 (see story).


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