Proposals from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to introduce financial guarantees for waste operators have been criticised after it emerged that the body has only funded the clean-up of one site.
The original proposals, in a waste crime consultation in March, are for a bond to cover the cost of clean-up should the operator be unable to pay for it.
Smaller operators told MRW they believed they were being punished for the actions of a criminal minority and would struggle to afford the bonds.
MRW has acquired a freedom of information (FoI) request that was sent to the NIEA by the Northern Ireland Recycling Trade Association (NIRTA).
The response states: “There has been one waste management licensed site, since the introduction of the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 came into effect, where environmental crime took place that has resulted in the NIEA paying for the clean-up of the site.”
The site in question is the Mobuoy site outside Derry which is one of the largest abandoned illegal waste sites in Europe. It prompted a highly critical report in 2013 which identified a lack of a co-ordination among the authorities tackling the problem. The author of the report, Chris Mills, is now helping NIEA to implement changes.
The FoI response says of the remediation: “The associated cost to the NIEA is currently estimated to be £1m. This includes costings for an ongoing assessment project. As this work is ongoing the cost could rise considerably.”
If the new financial provisions legislation becomes law it will have the potential to close most small to medium waste management licensed businesses in Northern Ireland
NIRTA’s Phillip Howe said most sites requiring enforced remediation are unregistered and operate outside formal regulation.
While the scale and impact on the NIEA of the Mobuoy site, Howe said: “This could have been avoided as the NIEA had known about this site and its activities for years. However, it was allowed to continue to operate and became the largest illegal landfill site in Europe.
“The NIEA were finally forced into taking action by the threat of media involvement. If the new financial provisions legislation becomes law it will have the potential to close most small to medium waste management licensed businesses in Northern Ireland.”
In response to the allegations, the NIEA said financial provisions are “a very important part of waste regulation” as they directly linked to the polluter pays principle.
“It is a legal requirement to have adequate financial provision in place for waste management facilities, indeed it is a requirement for obtaining a waste management authorisation. It is a condition in the authorisation and must be maintained throughout the lifetime of the site and to ensure full restoration/remediation thereafter.
“It is important to highlight that the landowner/landlord who permits a waste management facility onto his land will be held responsible for the restoration/remediation of the site should an operator default.
“NIEA may choose to use its enforcement powers against the landowner in the first instance, rather than apply financial provision and there have been a number of such cases. The route of action taken will depend on expediently resolving the waste problem.”
A similar waste crime consultation for England and Wales from Defra and the Welsh Government took place earlier in the year.