What is waste crime and how do we tackle it?

If you’ve been keeping on top of the news, you’ll have seen an influx of news reports on the ‘trash mafia’ – illegal fly-tippers operating on a large scale and targeting UK farmers, particularly those in Essex. The attention on waste crime is higher than ever, and tackling it is quickly becoming of global importance. But is the trash mafia all we have to worry about?

Today we’d like to focus on waste crime as a whole, exploring exactly what activities it encompasses, which are the most harmful, how it is affecting the world we live in and what we can do reverse the damage, together.

What is classed as a waste crime?

The term ‘waste crime’ is purposely broad to encompass all areas of illegal waste disposal – from an individual littering on the street to large-scale commercial fly tipping on rural farms.

Waste crimes are mostly deliberate but can also be committed through misinformation or carelessness. Both businesses and individuals have a responsibility to educate themselves on the law and abide by it at all times – this is just one element, but a critical one in terms of sustaining the environment. 

Which are the most harmful types of waste crimes?

Like anything, some crimes are seen to be more serious than others due to the sheer extent of harm they cause. Illegal waste sites are by far the most damaging to the environment, as they store, treat and dispose of large quantities without adhering to proper procedures.

Illegal waste sites usually operate in sectors, taking in all kinds of waste including but not limited to scrap metal, construction and demolition, vehicle parts, tyres and electronic equipment. A report showed that of the 1175 illegal waste sites on the Government’s radar in March 2012, the largest number were for construction and demolition waste.  

What negative affects do such waste crimes have?

The throwaway culture we have developed has to be reversed, as waste crimes now pose a serious threat to both the environment and our health.

Illegal waste operations pollute land, rivers and even the air we breathe! In addition, they undercut legitimate waste companies and invade local communities without consideration of noise for those living nearby. As a result, homeowners in the area may even see a decline in the price of their property.

Even the smallest waste crimes build up and cause real issues. We see it time and time again… natural beauty spots ruined by crisp packets, polystyrene cups and non-biodegradable bags, shorelines littered with empty cans, dirty bottles and plastic ‘parts’… it will continue on like this until we tackle waste crime effectively.

Who’s tackling these waste crime issues, and how?

There is no one organisation tackling waste crime issues, as it is very clear that to be successful in sustaining our environment we must work together. However, improper disposal of waste is a prosecutable offense and therefore the Environmental Agency has every right, as well as a professional duty, to detect waste firms that deliberately operate outside the law and take action.

In 2011, the approach was simply to fine offenders according to the scale and nature of the waste crime but in more recent years an emphasis has been put on prevention and intervention techniques. The Environmental Agency is more frequently using notices, injunctions and bail conditions as a way to stop illegal activities, working closely with operators to ensure they understand their legal obligations.

Can I do anything to help?

Everyone, from local authorities and householders to business owners and nationwide organisations, has an obligation to ensure their waste is dealt with legitimately. If you fail to dispose of waste correctly, even by handing it over to illegal operators, you risk being directly fined and/or prosecuted. As you can imagine, this can be extremely damaging for the reputation of businesses and professionals, so we advise you keep the follow tips in mind:

  • Beware of cheap waste removal offerings – if it sounds too good to be true, it is probably illegal.
  • Check that all of your waste removal or disposal carriers have a valid registration via the public register.
  • Always fill out waste transfer notes describing and documenting waste. And safeguard yourself further by filing them for at least two years.
  • Do not allow hazardous materials to affect the environment – keep them stored in a secure room.
  • Know the entire process – don’t assume that your waste is transported and disposed of properly, make sure of it!

The Environmental Agency relies on intelligence and cooperation when it comes to waste crime, so reporting an illegal waste operation is another thing you can do to help. Suspicious behaviour and abnormal sightings such as the following are things to look out for:

  • Odd, unexplained activity during unsociable hours
  • An influx of lorries entering a site
  • Water pollution
  • Smoke
  • And of course, actual visible waste.

If you suspect that your waste is being disposed of illegally, or you’ve become aware of any waste crime activities, please do get in touch with our team today for information on how to report this information and resolve the matter.

Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or call the Environmental Agency Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

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