New powers to tackle the serious problem of waste crime will be granted, and further action opened for consultation in a crack-down on illegal sites, Environment Minister Therese Coffey announced following the recent launch of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
Waste crime cost the English economy more than £600m in 2015, including lost landfill tax revenues and clean-up costs, and creates severe problems for people who live or work nearby with odour, dust, litter, vermin, fly infestations, pollution and fires blighting lives. Waste criminals also undercut genuine businesses who dispose of waste responsibly.
New powers will therefore be introduced for the Environment Agency (EA) to lock the gates or block access to problem waste sites to prevent thousands of tonnes of waste illegally building up. The powers will also enable the EA to force operators to clear all the waste at a problem waste site, not just the illegal waste.
The government has also launched a new consultation to tackle crime and poor performance in the waste sector. Proposals include raising the bar required to hold EA waste permits, and putting a stop to criminals hiding their illegal activities by requiring them to register low-risk waste operations which are currently exempt from the need to hold a permit.
The consultation proposes improving awareness amongst householders, so people can check on the EA website to see if the recipient of their waste is licensed to take their waste, or their duty to pass waste to legitimate carriers.
It also suggests providing local authorities with the option of fining those whose waste ends up fly-tipped or illegally dumped rather than having to pursue them through the courts. Latest statistics show that some of the worst hit areas include London which saw over 360,000 fly-tipping incidents last year and the North West of England which saw 128,000 incidents in 2016/17.
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said:
Waste crime and fly-tipping blight our communities and spoil our countryside, and we need determined action to tackle it. These new powers for the Environment Agency will curb the rise of waste sites that continue to operate outside the law. But we must all take responsibility for our waste to make sure it does not end up in the hands of criminals who will wilfully dump it. Our new consultation looks more widely at the waste sector and we are keen to hear from industry and the public how we can improve performance, tackle illegality and protect our precious environment.
More than 850 new illegal waste sites were discovered by the EA in 2016-17. While an average of two illegal waste sites are shut down every day, they continue to create severe problems for local communities and business as well as posing a risk to key national infrastructure.
In 2013, for example, a fire at a waste site in Stockport resulted in the closure of the M60 motorway and three weeks of disruption to traffic, residents and businesses. By empowering the EA further, these measures will help prevent such disruption.
Household waste is also a problem and makes up nearly two thirds of fly-tipped waste. Currently local authorities can only prosecute householders in court but a new fixed penalty notice would be less costly to enforce for local authorities, and more proportionate for householders.
The government is clear however that new fixed penalty notices should not be abused simply as a means of raising money. Guidance on how the fines should be applied will therefore be issued to councils.
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said:
We take tough action against anyone involved in illegal waste activity and last year, the Environment Agency >closed down two illegal waste sites every day. We welcome these new powers, which will enable our teams to block access to problem sites, preventing illegal waste building up and becoming even more serious. This will allow us to take faster action against criminals and will make a real difference to communities, but everyone has a role to play. We all need to check our waste is going to the right place and is handled by the right people.
The new powers for the EA to tackle problem waste sites will be introduced by spring 2018, subject to parliamentary approval. This follows a public consultation in which an overwhelming majority (90%) of respondents were in favour of allowing regulators to take physical steps, such as locking the gates to an illegal waste site, to prevent operators from accepting more illegally dumped waste and enabling the EA to require all the waste to be removed.