Environment Agency cracks down on agricultural plastic waste

With increasing amounts of contaminated agricultural plastic waste being intercepted by enforcement officers, the Environment Agency (EA) has urged farmers and agricultural businesses to check their waste management processes.

Silage wrap on bales of haySilage wrap, which protects hay bales from pest damage, has been highlighted as a prominent example of the contaminated agricultural waste that is often illegally exported from the UK.
In an attempt to crack down on such materials being illegally exported, the EA has emphasised the importance of farmers and agricultural businesses checking that their waste management processes follow the rules.

The EA advises that to ensure agricultural waste is handled properly and legally, farmers and businesses must:

  • check that the waste firms they are dealing with have the necessary authorisations for carrying, dealing or brokering waste;
  • ensure the waste is accurately described on waste transfer documentation;
  • ask where the waste is going;
  • ask for evidence that the waste company is authorised to store or treat it and what they intend to do with the waste afterwards.

Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment Agency, warned: “We take waste crime very seriously, with teams stationed across the country to disrupt illegal activity. It risks real damage to people and natural environments both at home and abroad.

“We know that farmers and the agricultural sector care deeply about the environment and don’t want to see their waste being illegally exported, but unfortunately we are stopping an increasing amount of contaminated agricultural plastic waste, and it’s vital that everyone knows where their waste ends up.

“That is why we want to remind farmers and agricultural businesses that they have a legal duty of care to conduct checks on those who collect, store or treat their waste. Anyone involved in its illegal export, from the producer to the exporter, is liable and could face severe penalties.”

The EA reports to have intercepted an increasing number of illegal waste exports, particularly to developing countries, in recent years.

To address this growing problem, a Waste Compliance Taskforce (WACT) has been set up to work with industry and the Government to tackle the illegal export of waste.

Chair of WACT Steve Morgan, who is also Policy and Infrastructure Manager at plastics recycling charity RECOUP, said: “We have created an Export Waste Crime Working Group which is initially focusing on plastic and brings together experts from across industry and government to increase resilience against waste crime and engage with the UK’s environmental regulators to support more effective ways to prevent and tackle the illegal activity blighting our industry.

“There are no quick or simple fixes to these challenges, but already we have seen positive steps in terms of engagement and open dialogue with the Environment Agency, and we look forward to carrying this positive activity forward to both tighten the controls around illegal exports and increase confidence in the UK as a quality exporter of material.”