More than half of waste sites break the terms of their permit yet fines for environmental offences are falling.
These shocking results were revealed in the Environment Agencys (EAs) sixth Spotlight on Business report last week.
The environmental-law enforcement body found that 57% of waste-management facilities breached their licence terms in 2003.
And it insisted that law-breakers must be dealt with more severely, after discovering that the average fine dropped by £210 last year to £8,412.
EA chief executive Barbara Young said: For some businesses, good environmental management remains a low priority, an afterthought or even something to be deliberately shunned.
Harm of the environment should bring harm to the pocket of the minority of companies that are irresponsible. But fines for environmental offences are still far too low, and do not begin to match the costs avoided.
Offenders should not only face much stronger penalties, they should always have to repair the damage caused and compensate the communities affected.
The EA prosecuted 266 companies in 2003, raising around £2.2 million and the waste industry received the most fines at £676,500. Five of the top 10 fines were awarded against waste-management firms.
The report named the worst performing of the 7,500 facilities that have waste-management licences in the UK. These included Waste Management sites at Scunthorpe and Immingham, Panelmark at Rainham, P Casey Enviro at Horncliffe, Reading Skips, Grimscote Metals, Northumbrian Environmental Management and Raven Skip Hire.
Particularly good sites included 56 owned by the Waste Recycling Group, 52 by Sita, 36 by Biffa, and Birmingham plant Tyseley Waste Disposal.
Meanwhile, the EA brought 30 prosecutions in 2003 for offences under the Producer Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. These laws require obligated companies to buy Packaging Recovery Notes to fund the recycling of the packaging waste they produce. Six of these prosecutions resulted in fines of more than £10,000.