Unit launched to tackle money laundering in waste sector

The Environment Agency has launched the ‘Economic Crime Unit’ to “boost its efforts” to tackle money laundering and carry out financial investigations in the waste sector. 

Waste crime costs the economy around £1 billion a year (picture: Shutterstock)

The regulator explained that the the new unit will help to ensure those working in waste management “do the right thing” and “gangsters” are unable to operate in the sector.

Making up the new Economic Crime Unit, according to the Agency, will be “highly skilled staff” including  financial investigators, financial intelligence officers and a financial crime analyst.

Conducting crime analysis enables the Environment Agency to “understand the bigger picture around financial crime, as well as to identify proactive opportunities for investigation”.

The Economic Crime Unit will also “utilise all the working relationships the Environment Agency has already established” with partners such as the police and HMRC.

‘Tough action’

Alan Lovell, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Waste crime is a blight on communities and our environment. By undermining legitimate business investment, it costs our economy an estimated £1 billion every year – money being taken away from other essential services to deal with the damage caused by waste criminals.

“The Environment Agency is committed to taking tough action and the launch of our dedicated Economic Crime Unit shows we will not tolerate organised criminals moving into the waste sector and using it to facilitate other crimes.”


The new unit will comprise two teams: the Asset Denial Team and the Money Laundering Investigations Team.

The Economic Crime Unit will work with other government departments such as the police and HMRC

The Asset Denial Team will focus on account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations. Where the EA says it suspects a bank account is being used for illegally made funds, “we can freeze the money in it and the onus is on the account holder to prove the money is legitimate. If they are unable to do so the money will be forfeited.”

The Money Laundering Investigations Team will enable the Environment Agency to conduct dedicated money laundering investigations targeting environmental offences. A conviction for money laundering offences can result in 14 years in prison.

Emma Viner, enforcement & investigations manager at the Environment Agency, said: “Waste crime is financially motivated so we know investing our efforts in making sure it doesn’t pay will make it far less attractive to criminals.

“That’s why we are excited to have launched our new Economic Crime Unit, which will bolster our efforts to carry out financial investigations and tackle money laundering.”

Organised crime

The issue of organised crime groups and their links to the waste sector has been raised repeatedly over recent years.

Last year, the Environmental Services Association sent an open letter to the incoming Environment Agency chief executive, Phillip Duffy, addressing the issues that “undermine the effective enforcement of waste crime.”

The letter, written by then-ESA chairman Gavin Graveson, highlighted that the 2023 National Waste Crime Survey found nearly a fifth of all waste in the UK, amounting to 34 million tonnes annually, is being illegally managed. Furthermore, it says that 20% of those involved in commercial waste handling are engaged in criminal activities, often linked to organised crime.

Back in 2018, then- environment secretary Michael Gove also launched a review into organised crime in the waste sector (see letsrecycle.com story).

This returned a string of recommendations such as the Agency having full access to relevant police databases, digital waste tracking legislation and ensuring producers are “held accountable” for the end destination of waste products (see letsrecycle.com story).

The establishment of the Economic Crime Unit provides another powerful tool in our fight against waste criminals

  • Robbie Moore, Defra


Environment minister Robbie Moore said: “We are all victims of waste crime – criminals leave a trail of both environmental damage and ill-gotten gains, while gangsters’ misdeeds can even include drugs, trafficking and firearms.

“The establishment of the Economic Crime Unit provides another powerful tool in our fight against waste criminals who undermine legitimate business and blight communities.

“We are going further to remould the waste industry and combat cowboy operators, including by introducing mandatory digital waste tracking and reforming the waste carriers regime, meaning those transporting or making decisions about waste must demonstrate they are competent to do so.”

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