A senior Environment Agency figure has outlined his ambition to shut down almost 300 illegal waste sites in England and Wales following a £5m cash investment into the watchdog’s crime unit.
Speaking exclusively to MRW, EA head of waste and illegals Mat Crocker admitted there was room for improvement in the agency’s waste crime record - but insisted a fresh injection of cash and personnel would yield results.
He said a crackdown on the 594 known illegal sites was a top priority this year, alongside getting a grip on illegal exports, and urged industry leaders to help his team rachet up the pressure on criminal operators.
Crocker told MRW: “Could we improve? Absolutely. If we did not need to improve we would not need to put money into it.”
On the number of known illegal sites, he added: “I would like to think we could cut the number in half, but that’s an aspiration. The situation might be that the more we look for sites, the more we find.
“For people that have information about people undercutting them or a deal that seems too good to be true, then let us know. We need people to be telling us where they think illegal activities are happening so we can get in there quickly.”
The agency announced last month it was investing £5m over two years in a new specialist environmental crime taskforce to boost some of the 22 complex investigations the agency is running, as well as day-to-day operations.
The major investigations often run across multiple regions and sometimes have an international element.
The taskforce, which includes former police detectives, will work closely with the police and other enforcement partners to gather intelligence and shut down illegal waste sites.
The unit’s impact may not be immediate, Crocker said, but he was confident that long-term results would validate the investment.
“We will be seeing the boots arriving on the ground over the next month or two,” he said.
“We are currently recruiting the intelligence officers and then we are phasing the other officers. We won’t be seeing any additional results, I would say, until those guys have arrived.”
Industry figures credited the agency with making in-roads to the waste crime shadow economy but said ministers needed to hand it more resources if it was going to get a grip on burgeoning illegal exports.
Waste industry consultant Paul Levett, previously Veolia deputy chief executive, said: “Overall the agency has done a good job on limited resources. But the amount of waste being exported has risen and the agency’s budget has not.
“If government wants the agency to adequately enforce theTransfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations [which govern what can and cannot be exported] it needs to invest.”
The Environmental Services Association said it was “pleased” to be working with the agency to assist in its work to crack down on illegal waste sites by sharing information and intelligence.
ESA head of regulation Sam Corp said: “It is vital that the agency is adequately resourced to tackle such crimes, and that the courts make full use of the powers available and impose sentences for environmental crimes which truly act as a deterrent.”
A full interview with Mat Crocker will appear in MRW next week.