Environment Agency condemns illegal plastic waste exports from construction sector

The Environment Agency (EA) has warned businesses in the waste and construction industries that they must deal with plastic properly in order to stop illegal exports.

The warning comes after the EA has become ‘increasingly aware’ of plastic film from the construction and demolition sector being exported illicitly, according to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Construction and demolition wasteExports are frequently being classified as ‘green list’ waste of low risk to the environment, in spite of often being contaminated.

During the last year, the EA has intercepted and inspected 1,889 shipment containers at English ports, stopping 463 from being illegally exported.

This, combined with regulatory intervention upstream at sites, prevented the illegal export of nearly 23,000 tonnes of waste, according to Defra.

There are a number of practical steps that businesses can take to ensure that construction and demolition site waste is handled legally, however, states Defra.

Construction businesses should check the contents of their waste

Different waste types need different treatments, says Defra, and so must be correctly categorised to ensure it goes to a site that is authorised to handle it safely – businesses can also check if their waste is hazardous as different rules might apply.

If construction companies are removing the waste themselves, they must be a registered waste carrier.

When a waste collector is transporting a construction company’s site waste, the company must check that the collector has a waste carrier’s licence from the EA.

They must also check that the end destination site any waste is taken to is permitted to accept it and has the right authorisations in place.

Businesses should keep a record of any waste that leaves their site by completing a waste transfer note, or a consignment note, for hazardous waste.
This records what and how much waste the business has handed over, and the destination to which it is going.

Waste management industry must adhere to export controls

Contaminated construction and demolition waste plastic – including low-density polyethylene (LDPE) wrap and film – must be exported with prior consent from the EA, as well as from competent authorities in transit and destination countries, says Defra.

Those involved in the export of such waste must ensure that it meets the requirements set under the relevant export controls, such as – being almost free-from contamination; using appropriately licensed destination sites for the reception and treatment of waste; ensuring waste is correctly managed once received.

The EA will continue to actively target those who export contaminated construction and demolition plastic waste illegally, including any accredited packaging exporters who issue Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) against such material in breach of their Conditions of Accreditation.

Businesses involved in the shipment of waste are required to take all the necessary steps to ensure the waste they ship is managed in an environmentally sound manner throughout its shipment and during its recycling.

Those convicted of illegally exporting waste could face an unlimited fine and a two-year jail sentence, whilst construction firms convicted of illegal export could face enforcement action.

Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment Agency, commented:

“We are seeing a marked increase in the number of highly contaminated plastic film and wrap shipments from the construction and demolition industry being stopped by our officers.

“I would strongly urge businesses to observe their legal responsibility to ensure waste is processed appropriately, so we can protect human health and the environment now and for future generations.

“It’s not enough just to give your waste to someone else- even a registered carrier. You need to know where your waste will ultimately end up to know it’s been handled properly.

“We want to work constructively with those in the construction and waste sectors so they can operate compliantly, but we will not hesitate to clamp down on those who show disregard for the environment and the law.”