One of several initiatives in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, the Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions and, upon conviction, push for heavy fines and custodial sentences.
Toby Willison, executive director of operations at the Environment Agency and chair of the JUWC board, said: “The war against waste crime just took a giant step forward.
“The launch of this new unit means we now have a full complement of partners across law enforcement as well as our counterparts in Scotland and Wales to bring down waste criminals for good.
“We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment. These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights.”
The unit will tackle crimes such as the dumping of hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported abroad to unsuspecting countries.
The creation of the JUWC was a recommendation in the Independent review into serious and organised crime in the waste sector, a report published by Defra in November 2018 and led by chief executive of science data company Hemera Lizzie Noel (see letsrecycle.com story).
In the report, the Home Office defines serious and organised crime as “individuals planning, coordinating and committing serious offences, whether individually, in groups and/or as part of transnational networks”.
Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.
“Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action.
“The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”
According to the Environmental Services Association, serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year and a 2018 Home Office review found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and, in some cases, modern slavery.
“Waste crime is a blight on our society”
Simon Walker, from HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “We are proud to be part of the JUWC. Waste crime is a blight on our society, with those responsible often involved in a raft of other crimes including large scale fraud that rob our vital public services of much-needed funds.
“This new unit will allow us to share resources, expertise and intelligence and take the fight to these criminals, protecting our communities and creating a level playing field for honest businesses.”
Since 2015, six legislative changes have been made to enable the Environment Agency to take tougher action against waste criminals, including giving the Agency the power to restrict access to problem waste sites by locking gates and barring access.
Defra says the Agency’s waste crime budgets have also risen by £60 million for 2014-22.
Last year, the Agency stopped illegal waste activity at 912 sites – 12 per cent more than the previous year.
As a result of prosecutions taken by the Agency, businesses and individuals were fined almost £2.8 million for environmental offences in 2018.