Biffa contests waste export charges

Waste management company Biffa has announced that it will be appealing the guilty verdict handed down to it in June for being in breach of waste export regulations after attempting to export heavily contaminated waste to China.

The charges had been brought against Biffa by the Environment Agency (EA), which accused the waste management company of sending highly contaminated material in a number of 25-tonne shipping containers marked as ‘mixed paper’ in 2015.

Wood Green Crown Court, north London

During the three-week trial at Wood Green Crown Court in north London, the jury heard that EA investigators had searched the containers at Felixstowe port and had found a selection of unsorted materials, including shoes, plastics bags, nappies and sanitary towels. The jury also heard that Biffa had used two waste brokers to manage the deal to send the waste to two delivery sites on the South China Sea coast.

Consequently, a unanimous verdict found the company guilty of contravening regulation 23 of the 2007 Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations. The EA are not pursuing prosecution of the brokers involved in the deal.

Biffa is also facing court proceedings brought by the EA over the alleged illegal exporting of waste to India and Indonesia, which will be heard at Wood Green Crown Court on 27 September 2019, along with its appeal hearing relating to the exports to China.

In its statement announcing the decision to appeal the charges, Biffa said: “Biffa has entered a not guilty plea to the charges made in relation to shipments of recycled paper to Indonesia and India between October 2019 and February 2019. We will strongly contest this case and believe the prosecution’s statement contains factual inaccuracies.

“The EA has previously visited the facilities in question when identical recycled paper was produced for export, without complaint.

“We have also made an application for leave to appeal the court judgement of June 20, 2019 regarding recycled paper exports to China. Biffa maintains that the EA needs to issue clear guidance to the industry as to what are the acceptable levels of purity for UK exported mixed paper.

“We are encouraged by the support we have received from across the industry for our position on this matter.”

The waste shipments in question predate China’s 2018 import ban and imposition of strict contamination limits; although these restrictions have proved a particular headache for the recycling industry, China has banned unsorted household recycling waste since 2006.

Since the introduction of China’s ban of 24 grades of solid waste in early 2018, there have been reports of floods of waste being diverted from China to Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Since the ban, levels of contamination in exports have come under increased scrutiny, with Malaysia returning 3,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste to developed countries in May and the EA launching an investigation into the export of contaminated waste from the UK to Sri Lanka in July.

The EA have been contacted for comment. 

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