EA waste crime survey results confirm need for action

Sam Corp, ESA Head of Regulation, Aug 1, 2023

Sam Corp analysis the EA Waste Crime Survey Results, and asks what can be done to fight the impacts of waste crime on our industry

The results of the Environment Agency’s (EA) National Waste Crime Survey (2023) released earlier this month (July) suggest that a fifth of all waste produced across the United Kingdom is illegally managed and that the scale of crime in our sector shows no signs of decreasing. 

The crime survey, which sought perspectives from the recycling and waste management sector, as well as the victims of waste crime, concluded that 34 million tonnes of waste falls into the hands of criminals each year – estimating that a quarter of all waste operators engage in illegal activity. 

Additionally, in estimating the annual costs to society of waste crime, the EA report echoed the £1bn figure presented in the ESA’s Counting the Cost of UK Waste Crime (2021) report – with landfill tax evasion, and the subsequent profits to be made, a key driver of criminality within the sector. 

Waste crime undercuts legitimate business and threatens investment, while clean-up costs for illegally dumped waste often fall to farmers and landowners. Yet despite all of this, the EA survey concluded that only just a quarter of all waste crimes are reported – largely due to a lack of faith in the enforcement process, which is hamstrung by insufficient resources, and disproportionately small punitive outcomes for those that are reported and successfully prosecuted. 

Philip Duffy, the new CEO of the Environment Agency, started in post earlier this month and the ESA is keen to work with the EA to help address these challenges and more effectively tackle waste crime. 

The ESA believes the need for greater resources to tackle waste crime is clear and that it is a false economy not to invest in this area given the potential returns to the public purse in curbing tax evasion alone. If Government will not commit more resources to the EA, we believe enforcement could be funded through Section 64 of the Environment Act 2021, which allows for the EA to raise fees from permit holders (ie ESA members) to combat illegal waste sites.  

Additionally, there is a need for more effective enforcement and for the EA to use the full range of powers available to it as regulator, investigator and prosecutor. Our members would like to see the EA lock the gates on illegal sites and confiscate equipment to disrupt known illegal waste operations – which are powers the EA has but uses all too infrequently. Similarly, when cases are prosecuted, sentences are far too lenient to offer a real deterrent and are often well short of the extent allowed by the sentencing guidelines, so we would like the EA working to achieve tougher penalties. 

Robust and visible enforcement action; successful prosecutions and proportionate sentences will all help to encourage individuals and organisations in the sector to report waste crime to a greater degree. However, it is far better to deter criminals than it is to catch them, so we would also like to see regulatory reform around waste carriers, brokers and dealers licensing to be fast-tracked, alongside accurate new measurement of waste crime so that we can track performance. 

The ESA welcomes Patrick Duffy to the EA and we look forward to working closely with him and his team to help drive criminals out of the industry.  


*This piece was first publiushed in the CIWM Circular Magazine, July/August edition*