Biffa ordered to pay £600k for breaching waste export laws

Waste management company Biffa has been ordered to pay £599,812 for breaching waste export regulations.

This follows an investigation by the Environment Agency (EA), which accused Biffa of sending highly-contaminated household waste to China in 2015.

A Biffa waste collection truck

After a three-week trial in June, Biffa was found guilty of attempting to export seven 25-tonne containers from Felixstowe Port, which, although marked as ‘mixed paper’, when searched at the port were found to contain a selection of highly-contaminated, unsorted waste, including soiled nappies, food packaging and items of clothing.

The jurors heard that Biffa had used two brokers to arrange the exports to two paper mills in Shenzhen and Guangdong in China. The first broker took up a request from a Chinese client in April 2015 to arrange shipment of 5,863 tonnes of mixed waste paper from Biffa for a price of around £350,000. Biffa also agreed with the second broker to ship 4,992 tonnes of mixed paper in a contract worth almost £290,000.

A unanimous verdict found Biffa guilty of breaching regulation 23 of the 2007 Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations, although the EA will not be pursuing prosecution of the two brokers involved in the deal.

In a hearing held on Friday (27 September) at Wood Green Crown Court, north London, details were also raised about four further charges against Biffa illegally exporting 42 containers of waste collected from households to India and Indonesia between November 2018 and February 2019.

The court fined Biffa £350,000, ordering the company to pay costs of £240,000 and a further £9,912 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste at the EA, said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision. We want all producers and exporters of waste to be responsible and make sure they only export material that can be legally and safely exported for recycling overseas.

“Illegal waste export blights the lives and environment of those overseas. We continue to treat illegal waste exports as a priority and will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.

“Between 2018 and 2019, we prevented the illegal export of 12,690 tonnes of unsuitable waste and are working with the government on a number of measures to tighten controls including increasing monitoring of international waste shipments and charging higher fees to improve compliance.”

During Friday’s trial, the jury refused to accept Biffa’s version of events that consignments leaving its depot in Edmonton in 2015 had complied with the law because they comprised of waste paper.

Earlier this month, Biffa announced that it will be appealing the June verdict, calling for the EA to issue clearer guidance as to what are acceptable levels of purity for exported mixed paper.

Commenting on the recent fines, a spokesperson for Biffa said: “We strongly contested this case and have made an application for leave to appeal the verdict of June 20, 2019.

“Due to the lack of reprocessing capacity, the UK and Europe is reliant on the export market for recycled paper and cardboard. This case related to contamination levels in seven containers of mixed paper that were due for export to China over four years ago. At that time China was a core market for UK exported materials for recycled paper and cardboard, and Biffa was a key supplier to some of the largest, best-invested cardboard mills in China.

“These mills were all accredited by the EA as being of an equal or higher environmental standard as mills within the UK and Europe and all our materials were regularly inspected by customs in China and by a Chinese Inspectorate regime based in the UK prior to shipping. In addition, all buyers conducted pre-checks before shipping to confirm that the materials were 98.5 per cent pure paper, which was the accepted industry standard.

“Today our core markets for mixed recycled paper are the UK and Europe. We hope to see the EA work together with the industry to develop clearer guidance 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.”

Related Articles