Organised crime is infiltrating the waste sector and becoming an increasing cause for concern, according to major voices in the industry.
Last year the independent Mills report revealed that the Northern Ireland waste sector was vulnerable to crime, and claimed that the whole of the UK was at risk.
Christopher Mills, former director of the Welsh Environment Agency, worked with the Environment Agency (EA), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), while compiling the report.
He said: “The infiltration of organised crime into particularly waste crime was considered to be a much bigger problem in England and Scotland than in Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
“There is a serious problem in England and Scotland and the EA and SEPA are struggling to resource the cases that they are uncovering.”
Mills claimed that the extent of criminal involvement can in part be measured by the number of successful prosecutions.
In response, an EA spokesperson said: “Prosecution isn’t the only solution to waste crime. Over the last year we have focused on preventing illegal waste exports and closing down illegal waste sites.
“We have been concentrating our prosecutions on the most serious and complex cases. These more complex investigations take longer to bring to court.”
A SEPA spokesperson said the agency was fully aware of the threat posed by serious organised crime in the waste industry.
He added that SEPA was tackling the issue through a commitment to the Environmental Crime Taskforce (ECTF) and the formation of the Waste Crime Team, which was formed in December 2013.
An NRW spokesperson agreed that organised crime groups “remain a threat.”
He added: “Increasingly, NRW is targeting its regulation more effectively by focusing on the flow of priority wastes, such as WEEE and Refuse derived fuel (RDF), through their whole cycle from collection to final recycling or disposal. “
This response was informed by Mills citing particular areas that are “vulnerable to criminality”:
- Producer responsibility
- Handling of WEEE
- Handling of RDF
Peter Jones, senior consultant at Eunomia, told MRW: “Europol have put forward evidence of an increasing role of organised crime in the waste sector and pointed out the high rewards and the relatively low risk that are attracting criminal gangs to waste crime.”
Europol’s Threat Assessment 2013 states that “relatively mild sentences have attracted organised crime groups (OGCs) to the sector”.
Jones added that the industry is “drawing in those who have been involved in other areas of crime and is at risk of becoming a ‘cash cow’ to fund other types of crime.”
Mills said that every person consulted for the report had agreed that landfill tax, “whilst undoubtedly correct in principle” was causing problems as criminals were profiting from it.
Jones added: “Increasing landfill tax has created the same situation that leads to smuggling of alcohol and tobacco. Wherever tax is high, the opportunity exists to profit by avoiding it – but in each case, there is a very good reason for that tax to be in place.”
Mills told MRW that UK countries can prevent OGCs with a “policy towards zero waste, understanding and tracking waste flows and increasing powers and sentences to combat waste crime.”
He said agencies had to ensure that sentencing “provides a real deterrent to waste crime and that the polluter is made to pay”.
- On 29 January EA launched edoc, an online platform that replaces paper-based Waste transfer Notes and allows users to easily track the whole waste chain.
Mills also said the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), which allows courts to extract the financial gains from illegal activity from criminals, needs to be used more effectively.
SEPA recruited two dedicated financial investigators in 2013 who work closely with Police Scotland and the Serious and Organised Crime Division of Crown Office in order to pursue the profits made by criminal activities more effectively.
See next week’s issue for more detail on the use of POCA
- In March, Eunomia will publish an investigation into waste crime, commissioned by the charity ESAET, to assess the scale of waste related crime, and to evaluate its impacts across the UK.