UK environment agencies focus on waste crime across borders

UK environment agencies focus on waste crime across borders
The campaign is addressing waste transported across borders to be illegally dumped
A new environmental campaign has been launched to tackle illegal cross-border waste disposal – when waste from one UK nation is dumped in another.

Hauliers involved in trans-border activity are the main target of the ‘Drive out waste crime’ initiative, launched today (4 October) by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). This is part of the wider £3.8 million LIFE SMART Waste project, co-funded by the European Union, which is developing intelligence-led interventions to reduce waste-related crime.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Environment Agency in England are acting as partners on the new initiative, along with police forces across the UK and a number of transport, haulage and freight trade associations.

According to SEPA, waste crime costs the UK economy £600 million a year – though environmental consultancy firm Eunomia previously estimated this cost as referring to England alone, suggesting that the UK-wide costs of waste crime could be much higher. 

Kath McDowall, Unit Manager in SEPA’s Waste Crime Investigations Team, explained the drive behind the project. “Intelligence gathered by the LIFE SMART Waste project indicates that waste is being hauled from England and Wales and illegally deposited in Scotland,” she said.

“Several companies are known to be involved and many of these are under investigation by SEPA’s Waste Crime Investigation Team for criminal offences. There are also indications of serious and organised crime group involvement in the transport, sale and disposal of illegal waste – so it’s vital that we work with partners across the UK to tackle this issue.”

The campaign will involve three types of action requiring collaboration between agencies and nations: road stops, site visits and awareness raising.

UK environment agencies focus on waste crime across borders
Valuable scrap metal is often a target for criminals
Scrap metal theft

Authorities have already carried out two days of road stops in September, targeting lorries and vans travelling to and from ferry crossings to Northern Ireland on the A75 at Glenluce in Dumfries and Galloway.

Through these action days, the police aimed to gather intelligence on waste crime, particularly metal theft, which is estimated to cost the UK ‘at least’ £220 million a year. As Detective Inspector Arlene Wilson of the British Transport Police explained: “When criminals strip and re-sell metal from railways, utility companies and properties, it can cause damage and disruption to lives and businesses that far exceeds the costs of the commodity stolen.

“Hauliers may be committing an offence by transporting or illegally disposing of metal or other waste without the required permissions and this could leave them liable to prosecution and operational sanctions.

“Criminals often believe they can escape the law by crossing the border into another jurisdiction. But with multi-agency partners working together and sharing intelligence across the UK, this just isn’t the case.”

In addition, a site visit was carried out on Monday (1 October) to a scrap metal site in Lanarkshire, aiming to look for signs of metal theft or stolen vehicles.


Activities to raise awareness of the problem include social media and press activity throughout October, as well as a flyer being distributed at road checks and in service stations and truck stops, reminding hauliers of their Duty of Care responsibilities and that transporting waste across borders for illegal disposal could result in a criminal conviction, a hefty fine or even jail time.

Lynsae Tulloch, Chief Operating Officer of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, another partner in the campaign, commented: “Criminals involved in the illegal movement and disposal of waste are diverting income from legitimate operators, depriving them of turnover. Some haulage firms are also being used to transport waste to disposal sites – without them even knowing they’re involved in illegal activity.”

Offering advice to waste producers, Tulloch added: ““When negotiating waste haulage contracts, ensure you fully comply with waste duty of care regulations. Always check in advance that the delivery site is authorised to accept the proposed type and amount of waste. We encourage all businesses to continue to be vigilant and report any suspicious transfers or disposals by rogue operators.”

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