Comment – Waste crime on the rise…

Environment Agency chief describes waste crime as “the new narcotics”.

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a dedicated Waste and Recycling Event hosted by JCB at its World Headquarters and attended by the great and the good of the waste management sector.

One of the guest speakers was Chris Murphy, deputy CEO of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) who took the opportunity to highlight the growing issue of so-called “waste crime”.
According to Murray, waste crime is costing the UK economy more than £600 million each year. He also stated that while the Environment Agency has managed to close down some 1,000 illegal waste sites, another 1,000 have sprung up in their place. Little wonder then that Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan has described waste crime as “the new narcotics”.

Offences, sometimes involving organised crime gangs, range from the illegal dumping of household and industrial waste to massive frauds involving recycling fees and landfill tax. “With drugs it took a while for the system to catch up and realise the damage drugs were doing. We are clear now about the damage waste crime does to communities and to the economy,” says Bevan. “The strategy is to work with the good guys and really nail the bad guys. As the statistics show we haven’t cracked it yet and it will be a long grind, but we are making progress.”

Admirable indeed. But I can’t help think that the UK Government is now reaping what it sowed during a period of landfill site closures and waste material reclassification and a continued use of Landfill Tax as a cash cow with – apparently – no upper limits. Couple that with a planning system in which local authorities publicly aspire to green credentials but which privately throw endless obstacles in the path of new recycling centres, and it is little wonder that domestic, commercial and industrial waste winds up by the roadside.

Of course, at this point, reputable and professional demolition men (and women) are now throwing up their hands and screaming “not us” at their computer or mobile device screens. And I concur. No demolition company that I know would knowingly send waste materials to an illegal site. But knowingly is a big word; and if you’re working away from your normal territory, how can you tell that the local waste company isn’t diverting your arisings from a licensed landfill and into a farmer’s field in the dead of night?

Aside from the environmental damage being wrought upon this green and pleasant land by the perpetrators of waste crime, the most annoying aspect of all this is that any Environmental Agency clampdowns will penalise the demolition industry; a sector that views waste as its mortal enemy and which sets a global standard in the field of materials recycling, re-use and resale.