Government launches waste crime task force

The government has today (16 January) launched a new task force to crack down on the £600-million criminal waste industry.

An illegal waste dump

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) will bring together law enforcement agencies, UK environment regulators, HMRC and the National Crime Agency in conducting site inspections and making arrests and prosecutions. Upon conviction, the JWUC will push for heavy fines and custodial sentences.

The establishment of the JUWC came as one of a series of recommendations in the ‘Independent review into serious and organised crime in the waste sector’, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in November 2018, which found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large-scale fraud and, in some cases, modern slavery.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers commented: “Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.

“Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action. The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”

Toby Wilson, Chair of the JUWC Board, added: “The war against waste crime just took a giant step forward. The launch of this new unit means we now have a full complement of partners across law enforcement as well as our counterparts in Scotland and Wales to bring down waste criminals for good.

“We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment. These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights.”

Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), Jacob Hayler, said: “The creation of a new task force to tackle serious waste crime is very much welcomed by the ESA and its members, who have been calling upon the government for years now to bolster enforcement and drive both organised crime and rogue operators out of our sector.

“This illegal activity not only directly harms the environment, but puts people at risk, undermines confidence in recycling – particularly around international export activity – and ultimately threatens investment in the legitimate recycling and waste management sector.

“In addition to better resourced and more robust enforcement, we would also like to see progress on new policy to reform the waste carriers regime and the introduction of greater responsibility on behalf of waste producers, since it’s essential that waste ends up in the right place, and not in the hands of criminals. Greater enforcement action should help to deter criminals from the sector, but better yet is to stop waste material getting into their hands in the first place.”

Tackling waste crime

Such a task force was proposed in the Resources and Waste Strategy, published in December 2018, following the government’s announcement of its intention to crack down on waste crime in its 25 Year Environment Plan.

The government has stepped up the powers of the Environment Agency (EA) in tackling waste crime over recent years, enabling the EA to stop illegal waste activity at 912 sites in 2018, 12 per cent more than the previous year, with fines totalling almost £2.8 million. The increased number of actions came in response to a rise in serious pollution incidents in 2018, which increased by 22 per cent from 2017.

Six legislative changes have been made to allow the EA to take tougher action against waste criminals since 2015, including granting the EA authority to block entry to illegal sites in January 2018, although this power was only used for the first time at an incident in Birmingham in April 2019.

Fixed Penalty Notices for householders who breach their waste duty of care have now been introduced, whilst the government has also invested in a project to combat waste crime using smart tracking.

The government’s recently tabled Environment Bill included measures to tackle waste crime and enforce anti-littering powers – although the Bill was shelved due to the dissolution of Parliament ahead of December’s general election, it is expected to be reintroduced to Parliament at the end of this month.

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