Waste crime is becoming more organised, with two illegal waste sites being closed down every day and a similar number of new ones being discovered, according to the Environment Agency (EA).
Networks of career criminals are starting to be involved in waste crime, which is extending to fraud in the producer responsibility system and mis-description of waste, according to the EA’s annual report, Regulating for People, the Environment and Growth.
In December last year, an extra £30m was given to the EA over a four-year period by the Government to help tackle illegal waste sites, illegal waste exports and mis-description of waste.
EA chief executive Sir James Bevan said: “Waste crime continues to blight local communities, legitimate businesses and the environment.
“I want to pay tribute to all of our staff who do this vital, difficult and sometimes dangerous work. They are brave and often unsung heroes, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Sir James also thanked other agencies taht the EA works alongside, including the police and HM Revenue & Customs.
A total of £25.5m in fines for environmental crimes was issued last year, although most of this was a record £20m for a string of serious pollution incidents caused by a water company. In 2016 the total number of fines issued by the EA was £8m.
The 2014 change in sentencing guidelines is resulting in higher penalties for polluters, the EA reports.
In addition to fines, polluting companies were forced to pay a record £2.2m last year by the EA using enforcement undertakings. These payments are made to environmental charities, organisations and projects to clean up environmental damage caused by polluters. Last year £900,000 was paid out in enforcement undertakings.
However the report did find that, of the 14,000 businesses holding environmental permits, 93% were compliant.
Sir James said: “But we all need to up our game now. To meet the challenging new goals in the Government’s 25-year environment plan and Industrial and clean growth strategies, we need to work even more effectively with businesses to improve, not just sustain, their environmental performance; and to enhance, not just protect, the environment around us.”