New reforms to target waste criminals and combat dangerous practices at waste sites were unveiled today (6 February 2023) by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.
The current rules in England and Wales allow certain low-risk, small-scale waste activities to be carried out under a registration scheme, exempt from the need to hold an environmental permit, providing a light-touch but valuable form of regulation.
However, criminals have used the cover of exemptions to carry out illegal waste activities such as stockpiling large amounts of undocumented or unsuitable waste and evading Landfill Tax in England and Landfill Disposals Tax in Wales. These abuses are estimated to cost the English economy £87.2 million a year.
The government confirmed plans to close these loopholes in the Environmental Improvement Plan, which was published last week, alongside a pledge to seek to eliminate waste crime by 2043.
The government proposes to remove three of the 10 waste exemptions of most concern, covering the use of depolluted end-of-life vehicle parts, the treatment of tyres, and the recovery of scrap metal. Illegal or improper activity that undermined legitimate operators and posed a risk to the environment and the public was particularly pronounced for these exemptions. The conditions of a further seven exemptions will also be tightened.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Waste crime costs taxpayers tens of millions of pounds every year. We are determined to take the fight to those shameful criminals who seek to wreak havoc on our environment and economy.
We are clear in our commitment to eliminate this kind of illegal activity and these reforms will prevent dishonest operators from gaming the system and putting our health at risk.
This is just one of the measures we’re taking to tackle waste crime – we’re also giving regulators and local authorities more power to bring criminals to justice.
Steve Molyneux, the Environment Agency’s strategic lead on Waste Regulation, said:
The Environment Agency is determined to make life harder for criminals by disrupting and stopping illegal activity through better regulation and tough enforcement action.
Today’s announcement will help us in our goal by restricting or removing waste exemptions that are used to mask illegal waste sites. These sites are a risk to the environment and people’s safety, and undercut legitimate business. We will keep working with Government and the waste industry to drive further action on waste crime.
The Environment Agency’s regulatory compliance checks have revealed that certain exemption types have been routinely used to hide illegal waste activities from regulatory oversight in recent years.
For instance, in November 2020 firefighters tackled a blaze for a week at a site in Bradford that held an exemption allowing the storage of tyres. The exemption was being abused and 600,000 tyres were on the site. The proposed reforms would mean a full environmental permit would be needed for this kind of site.
The government is also planning to introduce greater record-keeping requirements for all waste exemption holders; impose limits and controls on how multiple exemptions can be managed at one site; and ban the use of exemptions at a site operating under an environmental permit, or where there is a ‘direct link’ between the exempt and permitted activity.
This follows our consultation on proposals to tackle crime and poor performance in the waste sector.
We recently consulted on reform of the carrier, broker, dealer regime, meaning increased background checks for firms moving or trading waste; and on the introduction of mandatory digital waste tracking, ensuring better record-keeping to help regulators detect waste crime.
On top of this we are awarding councils with grants to tackle fly-tipping, and have provided funding of over £450,000 to help several councils purchase equipment to assist further, such as CCTV.
The Environment Agency has today launched a National Waste Crime Survey to help stop criminals. They want to hear from victims of waste crime such as landowners, insurance companies and residents as well as from those who can provide important information such as industry.
At present only 25% of waste crimes are reported. Don’t let the criminals get away with it. Report anything suspicious to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or our 24 hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.