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Comment: Cowboys still having their day

Crime it seems pays, particularly in the waste industry. This week's MRW news pages look rather like Crime Weekly, with a slating on poor enforcement and low fines.

There has long been concern about the fines some offenders are being given and it seems that the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future.

Increased costs for disposing of waste, as a result of changes to regulations relating to hazardous waste, have meant an increase in fly-tipping.

Nearly 700,000 tonnes of hazardous waste remains unaccounted for following last July’s ban on co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. And the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee believes that it has probably been illegally dumped.

Outcomes of successfully prosecuted cases have been less than satisfactory, with fines often considerably lower than the cost of disposing waste in a legal manner. Where is the incentive to operate within the law when criminals know it’s cheaper to break the law and pay the low fine?

Until the situation changes, there will always be those willing to break the law to make a quick buck, tarnishing the reputation of the waste industry as a whole.

Many of the established, reputable firms are fed up with this uneven playing field.

This has been particularly evident in the metals industry, where businesses are busy investing in licences and the appropriate equipment to comply with the End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive. Unfortunately there are too many companies in certain parts of the country that are operating without the necessary licences and processing scrap cars not within the law.

A year ago at an MRW -organised conference on the ELV Directive the same concerns were raised, with the Environment Agency (EA) determined to crack down on illegal traders. But while the amount of cases being brought to court is increasing, the fines and penalties are not truly reflecting the nature of the problem.

Penalties have to hurt otherwise people will just be encouraged to ignore and evade the law. This industry works on tight enough margins as it is and being constantly undercut by cowboys makes matters worse.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee suggested providing the EA with extra money to tackle fly-tipping by increasing the Landfill Tax to £35 per tonne as soon as possible.

Increasing the resources of the enforcers is one thing but the courts also need to revise the fines and penalties given out when firms are prosecuted for illegal activity. Without this, the increased resources will be in vain.

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