New waste scams and fly-tipping spate prompt EA warnings

The Environment Agency (EA) has called for vigilance in response to an increase in waste dumping in the West Midlands, as well as new scams in the east of England to trick farmers and landowners into illegally storing waste.

Over the last 12 months, the EA in the West Midlands says it has seen an increase of illegally dumped waste on public and private land, including a number of incidents involving large amounts of processed or baled waste.

In Lincolnshire, meanwhile, the agency is warning farmers to be careful of a new waste scam that will land them with hefty clean-up costs, and in East Anglia, the agency is warning all landowners not to be ‘duped’ into illegally storing waste.

It is calling on farmers, landowners, big and small business, and members of the public to be more vigilant in ensuring waste is handled properly.

Lincolnshire waste scam

Waste bales dumped in Lincolnshire waste scam
Over the last week, the EA’s environmental crime team has dealt with two new incidents in Lincolnshire where farmers have been asked if they want tarmac road planings that can be used to repair roads and farmyards. After accepting the offer and cash, the farmers found bales of landfill waste dumped on their land instead of the expected road planings, leaving them with an environmental liability and a bill to transport and remove the waste to an authorised disposal site.

The first farmer had 25 bales deposited on his land this week. As farm insurance policies often do not cover poor business ventures, the EA estimates this could cost the farmer approximately £3,000 in transportation disposal costs.

In a second incident, meanwhile, a farmer had approximately 2,500 bales deposited on his land. The cost of disposal at a permitted disposal site could result in a bill of approximately £300,000.

Commenting on the scam, Peter Stark, Senior Enforcement Officer at the EA, said: “Criminals operating in and around the waste industry can be very convincing and persuasive, sometimes offering thousands of pounds in cash up front. Don’t be tempted by quick money – you could end up with an environmental risk, flies, polluting liquids running out of bales of waste and even fire risks alongside the massive disposal bill.

“We will investigate these two illegal waste incidents fully and take enforcement action if we can. However these farmers and landowners may have to pay significant sums to remove the waste legally. Waste crime is a serious issue diverting as much as £1 billion per annum from legitimate business and treasury.

“Although these specific incidents occurred in Lincolnshire, we would not be surprised if this scam was attempted in neighbouring counties due to convenient transport links.”

Illegal waste storage scam in East Anglia

Rubbish disguised as hay bales
In East Anglia, meanwhile, the EA says businesses are being targeted by waste criminals looking to dispose of waste by dumping it in warehouses, industrial units and some open spaces.

The agency says the waste criminals ‘can be very convincing in persuading landowners to allow them to use their properties and are able to fill the sites with waste which would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to clear, ultimately leaving the landowner with an expensive clearance bill’.

Kevin Rutterford, Environment Manager at the EA, said: “It’s crucial that all businesses understand their duty of care responsibilities for the waste they produce, who they allow to transport it and ultimately where it goes.

“Too often, when these responsibilities are misunderstood or ignored, we see the impact of waste crime where waste is deliberately dumped on land illegally. This can cause serious pollution, put communities at risk and undermine legitimate businesses that are doing the right thing.

“Even if the landowner has no involvement, legally they may still be responsible for that waste and that could mean a large clear up bill.”

Advice from the EA

In response to these and other incidents, the EA is reinforcing the advice it gives farmers and landowners to help them avoid involvement in waste crime, with suggestions including:

  • use reputable agents and brokers;
  • carry out suitable checks and due diligence, i.e. get the individuals details, vehicle registration, ask where the waste is coming from (address, permit number, waste carriers registration);
  • inform them you’ll be contacting the EA or call us whilst they are there; and
  • don’t agree to accept any waste until you have carried out some checks and had a cooling off period to fully consider the offer.

The EA is also asking members of the public to be vigilant when it comes to illegal waste activity and to contact the EA with information on anything suspicious ‘as long as it is safe for people to do so’. It cautions: ‘Individuals involved in such illegal activity can be hostile and we would urge members of the public to not put themselves in any danger if they encounter any such activity and to avoid any direct contact with the culprits.’

Commenting on the new call for vigilance, Lisa Pinney, Environment Agency Area Manager for West Midlands, said: “Waste stored inappropriately can create issues for neighbours through smells and pests. It can also have a detrimental effect on the environment and impact on rivers and streams. If you see or suspect illegal waste activities, report it anonymously to Crimestoppers online or by calling 0800 555 111. Alternatively report it to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.”

The EA’s role in tackling waste crime

While fly-tipping is normally the responsibility of the local council, the EA becomes involved when the incident is particularly severe, including when: waste is more than 20 tonnes (about 20 cubic metres); more than five cubic metres of fibrous asbestos or 75 litres of potentially hazardous waste in drums or containers; or if it is linked to criminal business activity or organised crime.

Through the Government Spending Review 2015, the EA secured an additional £23 million to tackle waste crime in England, up to the end of March 2020. This is being spent across the country, targeting priority areas.

The EA says it is ‘determined to make life hard for criminals’ and support legitimate business ‘by disrupting, and stopping, the criminal element backed up by the threat of tough enforcement action and prosecution’. Its new Disruption and Prevention team – part of the National Enforcement Service – is seeking new approaches to disrupt waste crime and stop it happening. Working in partnership with law enforcement agencies, HMRC, DVLA and Companies House, the service also employs techniques to track and trace vehicles and waste from different sites.

right Waste, right Place

The EA’s announcement comes after a recent survey by the ‘right Waste, right Place’ (rWrP) campaign found that half of rural businesses are putting themselves at risk of prosecution for waste crimes because of a ‘fundamental lack of understanding of key legislation’.

The rWrP campaign was launched by the ESA to help small businesses meet their duty of care obligations by offering practical advice on how to manage waste safely and efficiently.

Following on from this research, the campaign has now created sector specific resources to aid in increasing awareness amongst rural businesses around their duty of care obligations. Resources include reference guides such as the ‘Agriculture Simple Guide to Duty of Care’, case studies and ‘Need to Know’ cards. rWrP will also be appearing at several events across the country such as agricultural fairs, providing information and advice. The campaign has also produced an animated video explaining duty of care.