A few weeks ago, it was reported that a notorious fly-tipper, George Smith, had been given a 12-month custodial sentence for dumping three tonnes of building waste on a street in Croydon.
On the face of it, it was a job well done for the enforcement staff for bringing the case and to the district judge for seeing the seriousness of the matter. But the case highlights a fundamental issue for the waste industry: the practical application of duty of care.
It was reported that Smith’s business model was to “collect waste and dump it without any cost”. This was his third conviction for fly-tipping and he had not been permitted to hold a waste carrier’s registration for more than 10 years.
So how had Smith been able to continue to operate for so long? Where was he getting his waste from? Where was the application of the duty of care?
Defra’s revised code of practice is now more than a year old. When first published, some people said that the slimmed down version was “too complicated for those unfamiliar with waste legislation’, but “too basic for waste companies and their advisers”.
I disagree – simple is all that is needed. I will summarise the guidance even further here: don’t give criminals your waste and report any suspicions to the regulator. Without waste, it is hard to be a criminal.
I have found first-hand that there are companies taking their duties seriously. But you don’t have to look very hard to find examples in the industry of poor practice: transfer notes without even basic descriptions, European Waste Catalogue codes missing or wrong, non-existent signatures, and a scarcity of audits to follow waste flows.
There are no quick fixes. I hope the ‘Right Waste Right Place’ campaign will help to educate SMEs of their obligations. But it has a real challenge to get through to the multitudes of small firms which are producing waste but have only a vague idea of their obligations.
In contrast, the professional resources industry has no excuses when it comes to complying with what are simple requirements: ensuring the waste they control does not end up causing a problem further – whether that be illegally dumped, exported or sent to permitted sites that are in breach of permit conditions.
If all legitimate waste professionals did just the simple things well in relationship to their duty of care, then there would be far fewer waste crimes committed.
Mat Crocker is independent consultant and former Environment Agency deputy director of waste and illegals