Biffa charged with exporting household waste again

Biffa Waste Services Ltd has been found guilty of exporting household waste for the second time in two years, sending more than 1,000 tonnes of the mislabelled waste to Asia, according to an investigation carried out by the Environmental Agency (EA).

The waste was collected from private homes and exported from Biffa’s Edmonton-based materials recycling facility (MRF), with various items - such as soiled nappies, tins, hairpieces, plastics, clothing and food packaging - labelled as paper, the court heard.

Biffa 6Between 2018 and 2019, the EA prevented 16 25-tonne containers from onward export from Southampton to India and Indonesia.

Biffa has also been convicted of exporting a further 26 containers that set sail before the EA could intercept them.

The court was told Biffa continued to export waste despite being fined £350,000 for shipping similar prohibited material to China in 2015.

The held containers should have been labelled as unsorted household recycling waste.

Exports of this kind from the UK to countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), such as India and Indonesia, have been banned since 1994.

All UK waste exports should meet regulations on waste shipments, and the Environment Agency has a system of inspections in place to verify compliance.

Biffa refuted the claims, stating that the waste contamination was at a ‘de minimis level’, asserting that the ‘paper’ could continue to be shipped as ‘green list’ waste.

Despite this, the jury did not accept Biffa’s claims that consignments leaving its premises complied with the law because they ‘contained waste paper’, returning a majority verdict of 10 to one for all counts.

In the passing of a guilty verdict, Biffa Waste Services Ltd was convicted of four separate contraventions of regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

The company will also be sentenced at Wood Green crown court, with a provisional date set for 30 July 2021.

Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency, commented: “We are pleased with the court’s decision.

“We want all producers and waste companies to be responsible and make sure they only export material that can be legally and safely sent abroad for recycling.

“Illegal waste exports blight the lives and environment of those overseas.

“The Environment Agency will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.

“We prevented the illegal export of almost 23,000 tonnes of unsuitable waste in 2019/20, and are working with the Government on a number of measures that would tighten controls.

“These include increased monitoring of international waste shipments, and charging higher fees to improve compliance.”

Stephen Young, lead enforcement officer on the recent case for the Environment Agency, said: “This was a significant and successful investigation into Biffa’s exports to Asia.

“The Environment Agency will continue to pursue operators who flout the law by sending household waste to developing countries.”

A Biffa spokesperson said: “No public interest has been served by the Environment Agency in bringing this prosecution.

“The UK does not have the infrastructure to recycle all of the wastepaper that householders send for recycling, meaning export is essential to avoid having to landfill or incinerate this valuable resource.

“The case established that the paper we were sending for export was over 99 per cent pure.

“This is no different from the waste paper that is recycled in the UK.

“It would have been used as raw material to make cardboard packaging.

“The recycling industry has tried to engage with the Environment Agency on developing standards for export that reflect the realities of recycling that it can be measured against, but the Agency has not cooperated.”