Businesses risking prosecution through ignorance of waste obligations

Businesses prosecution environment damage ignorance Duty of Care flytipping waste obligations
By not knowing what happens to their waste after it's been taken, businesses could be aiding illegal waste activities like flytipping
Businesses across the country don’t know what they are legally required to do with their waste, and over half are risking fines and prosecution by not knowing where their waste goes once it has left their site, a survey carried out by the ‘right Waste, right Pace’ campaign has found.

The survey found that while 97 per cent of businesses think they are complying with their legal obligations when it comes to waste, as set out by the ‘Duty of Care’ law, the reality is that almost half are unknowingly doing things with their waste that leave them open to the risk of unlimited fines, prosecution and closure.

The ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign has been running through 2016 to help businesses understand what is required of them when dealing with their waste, and carried out the survey to understand the full extent of the lack of awareness of business waste rules.

Under the waste Duty of Care, anyone that produces, carries, keeps, disposes of, treats, imports or has controls of waste in England or Wales must keep it safe, make sure it’s dealt with responsibly by businesses authorised to take it. This means that if a business’s waste is disposed of illegally by an unauthorised waste carrier, they are open to fines and prosecution.

However, through polling mainly small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) from across the country, the survey found that 48 per cent of businesses don’t know where their waste goes once it leaves the site.

In addition, over a third admitted to not being sure whether they completed waste transfer notes – an essential document to ensure that there is a clear trail from when waste is produced until it is disposed of. The Environment Agency or a local authority can demand to see waste transfer notes for two years after the transaction, with the punishment for not being able to produce one usually being a fine.

Many firms were also unsure on how to correctly classify all the waste materials they handled. Over a quarter of construction businesses didn’t always separate their waste, and firms across the sector were confused about which waste types were relevant to them. 

Finally, many businesses were found to be unclear the risks of non-compliance, with only four per cent of retailers knowing that they risk prosecution by breaking the rules.

‘Waste crime is not victimless’

“Waste crime is not victimless”, says Sam Corp, Head of Regulation at the ESA. “Dealing with the results is costing taxpayers millions of pounds each year and waste criminals can harm the environment and put local communities in danger. By not complying, local businesses could well be helping facilitate such crime by not ensuring waste is disposed of safely.

By not following the Duty of Care and taking responsibility for what happens to their waste once they have passed it on, the campaign stresses that businesses are risking waste falling into the hands of criminals, leading both to damage to the environment through fly-tipping and illegal disposal and to rising costs for local authorities through the clean up operations that must follow.

In 2014/15, over 962,500 cases of fly-tipping were recorded across the country, costing local authorities £69 million to investigate and clear.

The ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign was devised by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), with the support of the Environment Agency and Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), to offer practical advice on how to manage waste safely and efficiently and keep waste away from criminals.

Businesses keen to improve

Despite the lack of awareness, the survey did reveal that businesses are keen to improve their practices and do the right thing when it comes to waste. Environmental and health considerations were found to be the main drivers for businesses to comply, followed closely by legal requirements. A total of 89 per cent also said they took steps to securely store their waste, while 83 per cent were making some effort to separate the different types of waste created before disposing or recycling.

Commenting on the results, Corp said: “These results back up what we suspected, that small businesses really want to do the right thing but many are ultimately not complying with the law. Nearly half told us that they’re unsure where the waste goes when it leaves them. Dealing with your waste can fall down the list of priorities when busy, but business people… need to realise that they are risking significant penalties if they do not comply.

“The ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign is here to help. Small business owners are often stretched, multi-tasking and under pressure. Our campaign provides valuable and easy-to-understand materials that will help them put good practices in place that protect them from breaking the law.”

Steve Lee, outgoing Chief Executive of CIWM, added: “Owners of SME businesses are expected to be an expert in everything – and waste law is no exception. Our campaign provides a helping hand to all those diligent company owners or sole traders who do not want to leave themselves open to risk.

“Crucially, the campaign does this in a simple and accessible way and we hope businesses find our resources useful when they’re making everyday decisions about their waste.”

More information and interactive resources on businesses’ responsibilities for waste can be found on the right Waste, right Place website.

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