Some years ago the Environment Agency (EA) took the decision to become ‘intelligence-led’ in tackling environmental crime. In doing so it adopted a way of working that is common across UK law enforcement and based on identified best practice.
Working to the national intelligence model places it as an equivalent with other law enforcement agencies such as the police, National Crime Agency, Driver Vehicle Standards Agency and HM Revenue & Customs.
While this provides partnership opportunities, it also means that when we take action it is against the right people for the entirety of their illegal activities.
Criminal opportunity and the financial opportunities it can bring have grown rapidly in the waste industry. The EA’s response has been to professionalise its approach. Critical to its success has been receiving information on suspicious waste activity through its field intelligence officers across England, who proactively gather that information.
Success with this approach is highlighted in the EA’s work to detect and prevent illegal waste shipments. There are approximately 17 million shipping containers in the world, each circumnavigating the Earth four times a year. Detecting those laden with waste is a challenge and finding those that are illegal waste shipments even more so.
Each time a shipment is stopped for examination, there is a cost to all involved. It is a fine balance to weed out the illegal from the legal, and being able to make informed decisions helps.
EA officers identify sites from where waste is being loaded for export and check their suitability, considering things such as the levels of contamination or, in the case of electrical items, the capacity. Should concerns be found at waste sites, future shipments will be targeted for inspection at port to ensure compliance.
In 2016-17, an intelligence-led approach by the EA prevented more than 19,000 tonnes of waste from being exported illegally, with a value of £1.1m to UK industry. Work so far in 2017-18 is on course to exceed this figure.
Being able to identify trends in criminal waste behaviour also assists in preventing and disrupting crime. Some of these are opportunistic or market-driven.
Recent inspections of waste bound for export at the ports of Killingholme and Harwich, for example, were undertaken due to the identification of baled waste leaving for eastern Europe illegally. At Harwich, EA officers stopped and inspected 29 trailers, finding 18 of them carrying waste. Nine had incomplete or missing paperwork. More of these port operations are scheduled around UK ports.
More at MRW.co.uk/10023498.article
Report suspicious activity to either national_intelligence@ environment-agency.gsi.gov. uk or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
Chris Smith is intelligence manager at the Environment Agency