Waste criminal given 200 hours community service

A man who was caught trying to illegally export electrical waste to Africa has only to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay ‘a contribution’ to £500 in costs for his crime.

On Tuesday (9 December), Emmanuel Yaw Tachie pleaded guilty to waste shipment offences at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court after being caught trying to illegally export waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) to Ghana.

Warnings were not heeded

Waste criminal given 200 hours community service
Exporting WEEE, such as old television sets, is illegal under UK and EU shipping law

According to Environment Agency (EA) officers, Tachie ran a waste treatment facility at the Bilston Industrial Estate in Wolverhampton, where he repaired and refurbished various types of WEEE.

Officers were alerted to his operations on numerous occasions between May and September 2013, after he attempted to export WEEE from the estate to Africa, in breach of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

However, the court heard that despite receiving these warnings, in November 2013 Tachie ordered a 40-foot shipping container for the purpose of shipping bicycles to Ghana, but once stopped and examined at Felixstowe Port, it was found to illegally contain waste electrical equipment. As such, Tachie was taken to court for his actions.

An Environment Agency officer in charge of the investigation said: “Illegal exports put people and the environment at risk and undermine legitimate businesses. There is a legitimate export market for working, used electronics. However, it is illegal to export waste for recycling or recovery in developing countries.

“Electrical waste can contain hazardous materials such as lead, phosphorous and ozone-depleting substances and can pose a serious risk to people’s health and the environment.”

Courts advised to issue harsher sentences

Despite being found guilty of purposefully breaking the law for financial gain, Tachie was only ordered to perform 200 hours of unpaid work and pay ‘a contribution’ towards costs of £500 (and a £60 victim surcharge) for his crime.

In mitigation, the court took into account that the defendant had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and that he had cooperated with the investigation.

However, the sentence appears to be surprisingly soft, especially considering that the Sentencing Council (SC), a division of the Ministry of Justice, has advised judges to issue harsher penalties to those found guilty of waste crimes.

Earlier this year the SC issued new sentencing guidelines to courts in England and Wales, with the intention that offenders be ‘hit in the pocket as well as deterred from committing more crime’.

Speaking at the time, SC member and magistrate Katharine Rainsford said: “Illegal disposal of hazardous waste not only causes damage to the environment but puts people’s health at risk as well.

“This guidance for courts will help ensure consistent and appropriate sentences for offenders. These crimes are normally about making or saving money at the expense of the taxpayer. They also undermine law-abiding businesses in the waste management industry that are contributing to economic growth. This guideline aims to ensure that sentences hit offenders in their pocket.”

If Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court had taken into consideration the suggested punishment for offences under the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007, Tachie could have received a fine of up to £50,000 or three months’ imprisonment, or both.

Waste crime appears to be still unimportant to some of the courts’

Speaking to Resource, Professor Margaret Bates, Manager of the Centre for Sustainable Wastes Management at The University of Northampton, commented: “It must be disheartening for the Environment Agency to see such sentences and associated fines being handed out to waste criminals. 

“The EA warned the defendant that his activities were illegal but clearly the rewards outweigh the risks, and the court’s actions bear this out. Despite the well-known impacts of e-waste in developing and the increasing concern regarding waste crime within the legitimate industry, it appears to be still unimportant to some of the courts.”

Bates added that waste crime not only affects the financial health of the legitimate waste industry and the Treasury, but also causes a “host of environmental and health problems to the recipient countries. It is likely that the e-waste exported would find its way to Agblogbloshie, an e-waste recycling site found to be the most toxic place to human health on Earth.”

She concluded: “Sentences need to reflect the severity of the crime and support the EA to discourage, rather than just inconvenience, criminals.”

Find out more about the problem of waste crime, and the calls for harsher sentences.

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