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Comment: EA policing must be made more effective

As the election battle buses roll through towns across the UK, and with less than a week until D-day, MRW has now reviewed each of the main political party's manifestos.

Despite the environmental sections of their pamphlets being heavily biased towards climate change, all have promised to improve recycling rates over the coming years.

Labour, under the spotlight this week, has promised more of the same, proudly citing that recycling has soared from 7.5% to nearly 18% during Tony Blair's tenure at Downing Street.

No mention of how England and Wales will reach the target of 25% recycling for next year though.

Labour prefers to focus on the further-off target of 30% recycling by 2010.

There is also no mention of the Environment Agency (EA), the police of our industry and the subject of a number of phone calls to MRW towers over the past few weeks.

All of the calls have been critical, and the most vociferous critics have been End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) depolluters from the South West.

Last week MRW reported that some legitimate operators were so frustrated about being undercut by cowboys, and nothing being done about it, that they were threatening to withhold payment of their Waste Management Licence fees from the EA.

It has subsequently been confirmed to us that as many a six Approved Treatment Facilities (ATFs) in the South West have agreed to take part in this impromptu protest action.

Whether this action will have any effect is debatable: one reader called MRW this week to warn those considering withdrawing their fees that his firm once tried this over a separate issue, and the EA moved quickly to make sure they stopped trading within days.

And therein lies the problem at the heart of this matter: legitimate businesses receive visits from the EA in order to make sure they are operating within the terms of their licenses.

However, the cowboys are generally small operators crudely breaking cars with little more than axe.

If scrap metal prices fall, then they will probably move on to cream off profits from some other trade and the EA lacks the resources to hunt down these backyard breakers one by one.

Environment minister Elliot Morley has promised that, if Labour wins the election, the Government will look at ways of increasing fines for waste criminals, but this deterrent will only work if the EA can catch the offenders in the first place.

ATFs have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds making sure Britain recycles vehicles in an environmentally friendly way, in compliance with EU law.

The least the next Government could do is protect their investment.

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