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A smarter approach will help to cut waste crime

This month English and Welsh regulators have announced new waste enforcement powers, including fixed penalties for fly-tipping, while their Scottish counterpart consults on its own.

Across the waste and recycling industry, there is recognition that a firmer hand is needed to tackle waste crime. To be truly effective, these agencies need adequate funding.

Eunomia’s report Waste Crime: tackling Britain’s dirtiest secret, prepared for the Environmental Services Association (ESA) Education Trust last year, suggested that an annual budget of £25m instead of the current £17m was needed to fight waste crime effectively in England.

It said: “The Government should commit to protecting a budget of £35m to tackle waste crime, with £25m to enable the Environment Agency (EA) to continue and expand its enforcement [activities], and £10m to HMRC and other agencies to enable action to be taken on tax evasion and facilitate joined-up working to disrupt waste crime.

“In the context of landfill tax income of £1.1bn in 2012-13, the additional sum suggested is tiny, especially since one of the main effects of enforcement activity will be to increase tax income greatly.”

In the past two years, the EA has been allocated two additional payments to tackle the issue: £4.2m this year and £5m last year. EA head of illegals Mat Crocker said at this year’s RWM that the regulator had used the extra cash to change tactics from working on a caseby- case basis to a “more intelligence-led approach” and had developed an increased partnership with HMRC.

As reported in the previous issue of MRW, an EA report, Regulating for people, environment and growth had said: “We are targeting our regulatory effort more effectively. In 2014-15 we carried out around 22,000 site inspections [while] in 2002, we carried out more than 100,000. There were 81 successful prosecutions against registered companies in 2014, down from 118 in 2013.” Even so, the number of persistent poor performers rose from 183 in 2013 to 229 in 2014.

ESA head of regulation Sam Corp told MRW that the association wanted longer-term thinking on funding “to ensure that this issue is tackled once and for all”.

But there are widespread fears that financial restrictions on Defra could hamper the EA’s hope for future funding. The 2015-16 budget saw a cut in the department’s non-capital expenditure to £1.8bn,from £2.4bn in 2010-11 and £2bn last year. With more spending cuts each year, it seems unlikely that long-term funding will be found for the EA to specifically tackle waste crime.

But the business case for investing in tackling waste crime put forward in Eunomia’s report suggested a return of £5.60 for each £1 invested, due to increased tax income, reduced clean-up costs and a thriving legitimate waste sector.

In a recent case, the EA, in partnership with the police and HMRC, arrested 14 people in connection with a suspected £78m landfill tax fraud. Corp said the amount of alleged lost revenue in this case suggested that the report’s estimated return on investment “might have been quite conservative”.

“This goes against the £1m or so spent on EA initiatives to tackle landfill tax avoidance. There are clear incentives to put the right resources into this issue.”

FCC Environment sales and marketing director Kristian Dales believes that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) leads the way in an intelligence- led approach to tackling waste crime. He praised the regulator for “approaching waste crime from a macro level rather than a siteby- site basis” and said the EA required “improved intelligence”.

He mentioned Sepa’s £3.2m Smarter Regulation of Waste in Europe programme, which aims to improve understanding of how illegal waste markets behave, identify holes in regulation and squeeze out criminals.

“My concern is that focusing site by site may not offer best value for money,” Dales told MRW. “The figures will look good but may result in the EA focusing efforts on companies that fall foul of the rules from time to time but are not criminals.”

Responsibility in many situations lies with businesses applying their Duty of Care (DoC) commitment, but there are concerns from enforcing it. The waste crime problem “would go away” if everybody applied their DoC, a seminar at RWM was told by Crocker: “Criminals can operate their criminal model only if they can get hold of the waste [from legitimate business].” Sepa’s national operations and waste enforcement manager, Willie Wilson, also speaking at RWM, said: “We really have to reach out and get across the message that we all have a Duty of Care in terms of our responsibilities and how we manage and dispose of waste.”

But Suez UK technical development director Stuart Hayward-Higham told the event that DoC was “a very complex set of regulations”.

“We give some customers a good kicking because they can’t be bothered to read the type of document that we ourselves can’t be bothered to read when we agree to mobile phone terms and conditions. I think that’s a bit unfair.”

Part of an operator’s job is to make DoC easier to understand, he said, ideally turning it into a ‘one page’ document. Suez had asked its commercial customers about their relationship with DoC, and found that more than half had not complied in the six areas required by the regulations in England due to difficulty in reading through them.

A Defra and Natural Resources Wales consultation on the DoC scheme closed on 21 September.

Warning over red tape

The Government has continued its focus on cutting back unnecessary administrative burdens with its Cutting Red Tape consultation that closed last month, focusing on six sectors including waste.

In its submission, the ESA called for “consistent but robust application” of rules and “proportionality of regulation”, with a focus on criminal activity that harms the environment rather than on “minor technical breaches”.

And Viridor chief executive Ian McAulay told a RWM meeting that he was “dismayed” by the Government’s drive to reduce regulation in the waste industry: “This is not about cutting red tape to cut costs – this sector needs regulation. It needs to be properly funded, properly managed and designed around outcomes.”

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