Environment Agency warns of illegal waste dumping trend

The Environment Agency (EA) is calling for landlords to be vigilant when letting their properties, as empty industrial units nationwide are being targeted by waste criminals to dispose of thousands of tonnes of illegal waste.

Criminals are posing as tenants to rent properties which they then use to store illegal waste. Landlords, property managers and farmers then face thousands of pounds in clear up costs and potential criminal prosecution, fines or even custodial sentences for failure to operate without an environmental permit.

Illegal baled waste is being dumped in empty industrial units

The waste, which is often made up of potentially hazardous materials, creates serious pollution and fire risks and undermines legitimate waste carriers.

The EA has revealed the four land types most susceptible to illegal dumping. The key dump sites are farms (34 per cent), industrial units (24 per cent), abandoned factories (10 per cent) and derelict sites (seven per cent).

Waste crime does not only affect individuals like landowners; it reportedly costs £604 million a year in losses to the waste industry and the taxpayer. From December 2016 to November 2017 the EA investigated the dumping of 18,244 bales of waste – each bale weighing approximately one tonne. It was estimated that, at a low end price of £70 per bale, the legitimate disposal of the waste would have cost £1,277,000.

The EA has stressed that businesses, organisations and individuals must manage their waste responsibly in order to prevent it from getting into criminal hands.

Nicky Lawton, Deputy Director of the National Enforcement Service, commented: ”Unsuspecting landlords and property managers are falling foul of waste criminals and as a result are being made to pick up hefty bills to clear up the waste – often running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“Landlords can avoid this by carrying out checks to prospective tenants to ensure their sites will not be used as part of an illegal waste operation. Waste crime, which costs the economy £604 million a year, is a serious problem that we’re using all our available resources and powers to curb.”

How to avoid becoming a victim

The regulator has called on landlords and property managers to take necessary steps to avoid becoming a victim of waste crime, listing the most important preventive actions:

  • Carry out thorough background checks on prospective tenants;
  • Check any empty land and property regularly and ensure it is secure;
  • Ensure that no waste is stored on premises without relevant permits – it is illegal and landlords could be liable to prosecution and the cost of removing the waste;
  • Check before signing a contract that it complies with regulations – it is possible to view whether a potential tenant holds the correct permit to carry out waste operations on the EA’s public register;
  • Be observant and report any unusual behaviour. If you are suspicious of prospective tenants contact the EA for advice; and
  • Be aware that an offer of payment to temporarily store waste is a scam, and the waste will likely not be collected. If you are approached to store baled waste in any circumstance refuse the material and call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The EA’s Prevention and Disruption teams are working to prevent waste crime, and are exercising new regulatory powers introduced in January which enable them to block access to problem waste sites, not just illegal ones, and force operators to clear all their waste.

Last year, the EA also disclosed plans to map England’s landscape in its entirety by 2020, a project which will help combat waste criminals. The EA will create a high-quality map of the country using aircraft equipped with specialist laser scanners, and use the data to tackle waste crime by spotting sudden environment changes that could indicate the illegal dumping of waste.