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New EA waste crime powers come into force

The Environment Agency (EA) will be providing waste enforcement officers with body cameras to tackle incidents of abuse as a new raft of waste crime powers comes into force. Officers are also able to block access to illegal sites and force operators to clear waste.

The powers, which entered into force on 29 March, were first announced in January, when Resources Minister Thérèse Coffey also launched a consultation into how to tackle crime and boost performance in the waste sector.

While the results of this consultation are still being analysed, 90 per cent of participants in a previous consultation supported regulators taking physical steps to address illegal waste activity. In practice, this means that EA officials will now be able to lock up illegal sites as well as block access to sites deemed to be a ‘problem’ to prevent the further dumping of waste. In addition, the EA will be able to force operators to clear the waste at a problem site.

Coffey commented: “These new powers will give the Environment Agency the tools they need to curb the rise of waste sites that continue to break the law and blight our communities.

“Through our 25 Year Environment Plan, we want to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. As part of that commitment I am determined to crack down on these criminals and these new powers will be crucial in ending this criminal activity once and for all, backed up by £30 million of new money.”

The Environmental Services Associated (ESA) estimated that in 2015 waste crime cost the economy at least £604 million. In November last year, the government promised an extra £30 million to tackle the problem, which EA Chief Executive Sir James Bevan labelled “the new narcotics” back in 2016.

Speaking on the new powers, Bevan said: “These are tough new sanctions against waste criminals and their unscrupulous activity which not only drains the economy but causes harm to the environment and damages livelihoods across the country. Last year, we closed down more than two illegal waste sites a day, and we’re determined to keep going.

“As we step up our fight against waste criminals, we also have a duty to protect our officers who put themselves in potentially hostile situations when they visit sites for inspections or to serve notices. The introduction of the bodycams provides an added deterrent as our officers do the important job of fighting waste crime.”

The use of body cameras is an additional measure which is hoped will tackle a growing number of abusive incidents – including assaults, threats and anti-social behaviour – against waste enforcement officers. A six-month trial was begun in August 2017 for officers in the North East which has resulted in the successful prosecution of an offender for abuse towards two officers.

Paul Whitehill, an EA waste officer, commented: “As a former police officer, I’ve seen routine visits rapidly escalate into threatening, or sometimes even violent, situations. Sadly, the same risks apply to the Environment Agency’s officers.

“We want to get on with our jobs without the threat of violence and the cameras will help to protect staff and bring obstructive individuals to justice.”

A ‘new strategic approach’ to waste crime is promised in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, which is expected in the latter part of 2018. Part of this could involve giving local authorities the power to fine people whose waste ends up being illegally dumped or fly-tipped, something suggested in the most recent public consultation. This would place more onus on residents to be aware of their Duty of Care to ensure waste ends up in sanctioned destinations.

The EA has also recently implemented a new charging regime, in force from 1 April, which will see a staggered rate of charges with lower fees for businesses which perform well and present a lower environmental risk.

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