Welsh minister pledges waste crime action

Welsh Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant
Welsh Resources Minister Carl Sargeant has pledged to introduce legislation in Wales extending the power of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to act on waste crime.

In a statement, he also revealed that the Welsh Government was working on a landfill disposals tax that will replace the existing landfill tax in Wales in 2018.

Sargeant highlighted figures estimating that waste crime currently costs Welsh business around £569 million a year, and that illegal trade and deposition of waste is growing in the country.

Explaining the need for greater regulation enforcement, he said: “[G]reen growth is a key driver for our vision for the sustainable future of Wales. The state of our environment is, therefore, an important aspect for how we live now and the legacy we will leave for future generations. We want to provide opportunities for economic development in a way that is environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive and provides safer, cleaner and more resilient communities.

“The waste industry is key in helping us do this and to this end, the waste industry is carefully regulated to protect human health and the environment.”

Legislation follows public approval

Sargeant’s statement follow the publication of the response to a joint consultation into waste crime enforcement held by the UK and Welsh Governments.

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), proposals to extend the powers of the Environment Agency in England and NRW in Wales were supported by 80 per cent of respondents.

Following the positive response from respondents to the consultation, Sargeant has announced that he has put forward legislation to the Welsh National Assembly that will strengthen NRW’s powers.

The changes will:

  • enable the regulator to suspend a permit where an operator has breached a condition of their permit and there is a risk of pollution; this provision will enable the regulator to specify, in a suspension notice, the steps that must be taken by the operator to remedy the breach of the permit and to remove the risk of pollution;
  • enable the regulator to require the operator to display a sign which informs the public that no further waste can be brought onto the facility in cases where a permit is suspended and there is a need to prevent more waste entering a site;
  • enable the regulators to take steps to remove a risk of serious pollution;
  • make it easier for the regulator to make an application to the High Court for an injunction to enforce compliance with an enforcement or suspension notice by removing certain preconditions.

Sargeant has also said that he will attempt to make further changes to Welsh legislation next year that will:

  • enable the regulator, in certain circumstances, to take steps to prohibit access to a site;
  • widen the regulator’s ability to require the removal of waste from land in circumstances where the waste is being kept unlawfully.

Through the legislative changes, he says that NRW will be able to take effective, quicker and more targeted enforcement action against “those who repeatedly flout the law”.

Sargeant noted that most members of the waste industry operate responsibly, but that a small section of “unscrupulous” operators seek to undermine legitimate business, while polluting the environment, endangering human health and having adverse effects on local communities.

Ensuring a compliant waste industry, Sargeant said, is essential for “reducing the burden on the taxpayer and the impact on human health and the environment”.

New landfill tax being developed

As part of ongoing action to lessen the impacts of waste crime, Sargeant says that the Welsh Government has begun to develop a landfill disposals tax, which will replace the landfill tax in Wales in 2018.

Sargeant noted that in its annual review of performance across the waste sector NRW found that the number of worst performing sites is going down.

He said: “This is encouraging but we need to further improve standards at permitted facilities, prevent accidents and stop those who operate illegally. When large stockpiles of waste catch fire, it pollutes air and water and creates smells, noise or harmful dust and impacts on other businesses. Dealing with these problems can take significant amounts of time and resource to resolve which means substantial costs for both the regulator and the taxpayer.

“I anticipate this useful tool [the landfill disposals tax] will help to act as a financial deterrent to those who profit from waste crime. We shall ensure that waste crime does not pay.”

Sargeant did warn, however, that legislation alone will not solve the problem of waste crime and that the public and businesses must be aware of their duty of care and “ensure that the waste we generate is dealt with properly to prevent it causing a problem for our communities now and in the future”.

He said: “The Welsh Government expects public bodies, businesses and the citizens of Wales to fully meet their obligations in waste legislation and to improve and strengthen, where possible, their current arrangements to prevent waste where possible and to manage their waste when it arises.”

Learn more about the costs of waste crime and potential solutions to the problem.

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