Car breakers in Portsmouth have been shocked to find themselves greeted at Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) by Environment Agency officers – who have also been checking up on them using social media.
They are just a couple of the new approaches the Environment Agency has been testing as part of a trial in the Portsmouth area in its continuing fight against illegal waste operators.
Illegal waste sites cost England’s economy nearly £100 million a year (source: Environmental Services Association) with illegal car breakers among the worst offenders. Those operating without the necessary paperwork and infrastructure cause pollution, fires, illegal hazardous waste, and take business away from legitimate operators who are doing their best to run a professional operation.
In Portsmouth, dealers posting advertisements on local social media ‘Facebay’ groups promising cash for scrap cars found their activities were being monitored by the Environment Agency. They received a series of private messages from officers asking for their permit number and setting out what they needed to do. The regulator had a 100% response rate to these messages, with some closing their accounts or stopping advertising altogether, causing significant disruption to their business.
The regulator’s focus on illegal car breakers was also enthusiastically supported by end-of-life-vehicle (ELV) ATFs in the area that got on board to help stamp out the illegal operators that were encroaching on their business – without any of their investment in infrastructure and permitting. They displayed posters and large vinyl banners, and helped spread the word that the Environment Agency were out there.
These new approaches have provided further valuable insight into the dark side of the industry, too. Initial surveys conducted as part of the trial evidenced operators claiming that they didn’t need a permit if they dismantled vehicles on the back of a truck, and that removing valuable parts to sell elsewhere before ‘weighing in’ wasn’t really car breaking.
As a result, the messaging trialled in Portsmouth focused on dispelling some of these myths:
– ‘It’s a criminal offence to collect, carry, store or break vehicles without an environmental permit, whether it’s at a dedicated site or not. Even if you’re doing it off the back of a truck.’
– ‘Removing batteries, wheels and cats still counts as breaking.’
These messages were included in a new information leaflet reminding illegal operators of their responsibilities and highlighting some of the benefits of getting a permit, including appealing to an increasingly well-informed general public who are becoming more aware that they must use licensed companies to dispose of their waste. Based on initial pre-trial surveys, it also included a simple flowchart setting out what breakers need to do.
A new set of posters was produced warning car breakers without permits that the Environment Agency now has the power to block their yard, seize their van and take their profits. But the messages also offered support to those willing to make a fresh start: ‘Show us you’re trying and we’ll help you all the way.’ These posters are now available for use nationally across all ELV-related ATFs.
Similar messages were also displayed on banners at the entrance to relevant ATFs where they couldn’t fail to be seen by car breakers arriving with an end-of-life vehicle on the back of their truck. And at the time of the trial, it wasn’t any easier inside the yard, where Environment Agency officers were often waiting unannounced to speak to them about their waste activity.
The trial also saw a small number of suspect breakers found on Ebay by the VRA receive surprise visits from Environment Agency Officers. One yard had already been warned during a previous raid that it needed to have an Environment Agency permit or stop operating, after officers found fuel and oils leaking into the ground.
Asking for feedback from the network of legitimate car breakers and ATFs throughout the trial, the Environment Agency found it was buzzing with talk of its activities. “It’s put the cat among the pigeons,” observed a manager at one business, one of several that had been handing out copies of Environment Agency leaflets and posters to customers. “Carry on doing what you’re doing!” said the boss of another.
Steve Jakubowski, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Waste Team Leader, said:
“Our message to illegal car breakers during this pilot has been simple: it’s time for illegal car breakers to get ‘legit’ and get a licence – or stop what they’re doing. It’s easy to get free help and make a fresh start, but if they don’t, we want them to know we’re watching them.”
To download the leaflet or the posters to print and display in your yard, click on the following links: