Can we expect to see formidably equipped police officers breaking into illegal waste sites and shouting “right, you’re nicked” just as some dubiously acquired scrap metal is loaded?
A joint unit of the waste industry, Environment Agency (EA) and police to combat the worst waste crimes was the most eye-catching call from a report of the independent review of waste crime in England, ordered by environment secretary Michael Gove.
The review was set up by Gove in June, led by Defra non-executive director Lizzie Noel, to seek ways to cut the £600m waste crime bill when ministers became concerned that rather than just being the preserve of dodgy blokes in unmarked lorries, waste is now prey to organised crime.
Gove said at the time that the review’s recommendations will be considered in the Government’s forthcoming resources and waste strategy.
Among the conclusions were that compulsory electronic tracking of waste could help clamp down on illegal movements, that there should be financial penalties for producers if their waste was deposited illegally and, overall, criminals should have “greater cause to fear the consequences of their actions”.
It gave the ‘crimebuster’ team the un-snappy name Joint Unit on Waste Crime (JUWC) comprising the EA, police officers, police and crime commissioners, and industry representatives. The EA would also gain access to all relevant police databases and there would be a national database of registered brokers.
JUWC would be a command and control centre to direct and co-ordinate a multi-agency response in the most serious cases, along the lines of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. It would produce strategic threat assessments, and integrate intelligence systems with other relevant agencies.
But the review concluded that Treasury rules stood in the way of the EA raising and spending money to deal with waste crime and its consequences. That could see a tussle between Defra and the Treasury, as the latter seldom likes to loosen its control over funds.
The review suggested the EA could broaden its fee income by calculating the cost of ensuring compliance across the sector, including enforcement action against illegal sites, and increase the costs of permits so these covered enforcement as well as regulatory costs.
It also proposed a voluntary levy on the industry. This might not appeal to companies, but the review argued that legitimate businesses would have an incentive to contribute as the principal beneficiaries of better policing.
Gove appeared determined to act. He said: “The threat to society from waste crime is real. Criminals are running illegal waste sites as a cover for theft, human trafficking, drug running and money laundering. It is costing our economy millions of pounds each year, and blighting our communities.”
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and Environmental Services Association (ESA) endorsed the review wholeheartedly.
CIWM head of policy and communications Pat Jennings said: “These recommendations respond to repeated calls from the CIWM in recent years for adequate resourcing of the regulators, a more multi-disciplinary approach to maximise intelligence sharing, and a stronger regulatory regime for waste carriers, brokers and dealers and duty of care.”
Colin Church, who sat on the review group when he was CIWM chief executive, added: “This is a major milestone in the fight against the escalating problem of waste crime.”
Sam Corp, ESA head of regulation, said: “Particularly helpful are the recommendations to tighten up duty of care regulation and the carriers, brokers, dealers regime, and which appear to reflect policy proposals that the ESA and others recently submitted to the Government.”
But not everyone is happy. The British Metals Recycling Association said the review had not considered the metals sector. A spokesperson told MRW: “The review does make reference to metal in the context of registrations being refused or revoked by the EA if the applicant has committed an offence related to metal under specific legislation; unfortunately, it does not reference the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.
“With cash payments for scrap metal going unchecked across the country, it is concerning that these potentially high-value transactions have not drawn more attention from a money laundering aspect alone.”
Review recommendations have a habit of being watered down in Whitehall. But, having spoken out strongly, Gove may wish to be seen to ‘do something’ about waste crime.
- Creation of a Joint Unit for Waste Crime led by the EA with the police, police and crime commissioners, HM Revenue & Customs and waste industry representatives
- A national database of registered waste brokers
- EA given more powers to pursue and disrupt organised crime
- Mandatory electronic tracking of waste
- EA to have full access to relevant police databases
- Reform of registration and duty of care requirements for carriers, brokers and dealers
- Waste producers should be held accountable for the end destination of their waste products
- Reform of funding for the regulation and policing of the waste sector