Government needs to go further and faster to tackle waste crime

It goes without saying that ESA supports the continued commitment by government to try and tackle the scourge of waste crime as evidenced in its recent consultation on proposals to tackle the issue and introduce a new fixed penalty for the waste duty of care.

The consultation contains some helpful policy proposals. However, as is often the way, the government could go further and faster to tackle the problem.

After all, as ESA’s Rethinking Waste Crime report showed last year, unfortunately, despite the efforts of government, the regulators and the legitimate industry, the problem of waste crime is getting worse rather than better.

Notwithstanding the above, the proposals contained in the current consultation contain some useful measures which will hopefully have some positive impact.

For example, the proposals to raise the standard of operator competence at permitted sites by strengthening the regulators’ assessment and enforcement abilities are helpful. They will hopefully help to discourage operators from entering our sector who do not have the resources, the experience, or even the intention to operate within the law.

Similarly, tightening up financial checks at the front end should also help to prevent operators, who are unable to demonstrate adequate financial standing, from receiving a permit in the first place. However, while additional scrutiny is welcome, extending the financial provision requirement to additional facilities, as is suggested in the consultation, should be dependent upon a revised risk profiling of the sector to avoid tying up capital and potentially constraining investment within the legitimate industry.

The consultation highlights Environment Agency research showing that 30% of ‘exemptions’ visited were found to be illegal: a damning statistic clearly highlighting the need for change, which ESA has long called for.

As the consultation recognises: The act of registering an exemption provides an easy route into the waste industry with minimum barriers to market entry and low levels of regulatory oversight’.  The reform of the exemptions regime advocated in the consultation, to prevent exemptions being used to hide waste crime, is therefore also welcomed.

Tackling the ‘real criminals’

It is likely that the proposals to introduce fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to householders who breach their duty of care, will help raise awareness of this important responsibility.

However, what is missing in this consultation are proposals to overhaul and tighten the carriers, brokers and dealers regime, which ESA called for in the Rethinking Waste Crime report last year. Without this, we have concerns about the effectiveness of the FPNs to deter the real criminals. The requirements for becoming a registered waste carrier, broker or dealer are, quite simply, too lax.

So, while contracting with a registered carrier or broker ought to provide some comfort to householders that their waste is being managed responsibly, all it actually provides is a veneer of legitimacy which is often relied upon completely to fulfil waste producers’ duty of care requirements.

UK government allocated an extra £30m to the Environment Agency to tackle waste crime in England in the 2017 Budget and this was on top of the previous £23m allocated in the 2015 spending review. So it seems clear that government recognises that there is a problem that needs to be fixed and is willing to throw some resources at it.

It is therefore encouraging that we are starting to see some helpful policy proposals and changes to legislation to give regulators greater powers to target criminals.

However, what we haven’t yet seen is a real impact on the ground in terms of a reduction in criminal activity.

This will only really be achieved once there has been a complete overhaul and tightening of the carriers, brokers, dealers regime. ESA is of course only too willing to continue to work with government and regulators to try and solve this problem once and for all.

Photo by HM Revenue & Customs

Sam Corp

Sam Corp

Head of regulation, Environmental Services Association (ESA)

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