I have been travelling a lot recently, and trips to Nepal, Nicaragua, Berlin and Malaysia have highlighted the differences and similarities between waste management systems across the world.
Sadly, one of the consistent aspects is concern about waste crime and illegal dumping.
When developing countries look to us to see how we ensure that waste is safely managed, it is rather depressing to have to explain that we haven’t got it sorted here either, and it is becoming an increasingly high-profile issue. Who would have predicted, for example, that broadcaster ITN would run a campaign on fly-tipping?
But I am buoyed by ongoing efforts to tackle waste crime in all its forms: from increased industry engagement, an Environment Agency taskforce and the ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ campaign, which has been working to raise awareness of duty of care (DoC) legislation and provide practical help to businesses.
DoC has the potential to be a valuable tool in the fight against waste crime. But while it has been in place for more than 20 years and is familiar to most of us in the sector, levels of wider awareness are poor.
Householders have little or no knowledge of their responsibilities, and research used to underpin the Right Waste campaign found that 56% of UK businesses were unaware of their DoC obligations and admitted to non-compliant practices.
This lack of knowledge is exploited by illegal operators. Rising landfill tax and the derisory barriers to entry for waste carriers mean the profits that an unscrupulous operator can make through misdescription, fly-tipping and illegal dumping are now considerable.
“When developing countries look to us to see how we ensure that waste is safely managed, it is rather depressing to have to explain that we haven’t got it sorted here either.”
The impact is evident everywhere – from urban hotspots to farms, two-thirds of which are being hit by illegal dumping, according to a National Farmers Union report Combatting Rural Crime.
But the sector is fighting back and must continue to do so. Initiated with financial support from the Government through Defra and the Environment Agency, the Right Waste campaign was subsequently funded by the Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM) and the Environmental Services Association Environmental Trust for its second phase, and has support from a wide range of organisations.
To date, it has signed up more than 40 ambassadors who reach over 500,000 customers and supply chain partners, has run more than 10 events, received 40,000 web page views and surveyed 1,200 businesses and 500 farmers and landowners.
The CIWM and ESA will be sharing the latest results from the campaign at RWM in Birmingham this year.
Margaret Bates is the president of the CIWM and an RWM ambassador