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Adam Hewitt
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EA sees a reduction in the number of high-risk illegal waste sites in 2019-2020

During 2019-20 the EA saw a reduction in high-risk illegal waste site numbers from 260 to 233


EA sees a reduction in the number of high-risk illegal waste sites in 2019-2020 feat

In the Environment Agency (EA) Annual report and accounts for the financial year 2019 to 2020, published on the 15th December, they saw a reduction in the number of high-risk illegal waste sites.

Their priority is to reduce the impact of waste crime on local communities and to ensure a level playing field for legitimate businesses.

During 2019-20 the EA saw a reduction in high-risk illegal waste site numbers from 260 to 233 which represents the lowest total of such sites since 2013-14. This continues to be an improvement in performance compared to 2018-19. Although this is not as big a reduction as they were aiming for, which was a target of 196, the pace continues with over 50% of all new illegal waste sites being stopped in 90 days or less.

The total number of illegal waste sites has reduced to its lowest since 2016-17. All illegal waste sites (which include lower-risk sites) have seen a reduction from 691 to 536.

The continued downward trend across most of the country reflects the hard work, innovative tactics and on-going benefit of the additional staff funded by extra money received from government to help them tackle waste crime. 59 successful waste crime prosecutions were made in 2019-20. This work resulted in 5 prison sentences, 11 suspended sentences and total fines of over £530k.

In January 2020 the EA launched the Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC), a new task force dedicated to tackling serious and organised waste crime. The JUWC will for the first time bring together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HM Revenue and Customs and the National Crime Agency in the war against waste crime.

By working together, the Joint Unit partners can more easily share intelligence and resources to take swifter action when investigating criminal waste operations and other connected illegal activities, such as money laundering and human trafficking.

Illegal waste

According to the report, there are high public and political expectations of the Environment Agency to address the issue of crime in the waste sector not least because of the additional funding received from Government to the EA to tackle this issue.

The safe and legal disposal of waste can be expensive because of the level of landfill tax and other processes designed to promote recycling. The profit that can be made by avoiding these costs attracts organised criminal groups into the waste management arena. While the majority of operators are responsible, complying with regulations and their permit conditions, there are some sites and activities which are not operated within this framework and which both threaten environmental harm and undercut legitimate operators.

Such illegal activity includes the indiscriminate dumping of waste, operation of sites without an environmental permit, mis-describing waste to avoid high rate tax and the illegal export of waste.

Waste crime is often a significant blight on local environments; a source of pollution; a potential danger to public health and hazard to wildlife. It also undermines legitimate waste businesses and it is becoming increasingly difficult for operators acting within the law to compete.

The Environment Agency’s vision is to eliminate crime and poor performance in the waste sector fits with the Home Office Serious and Organised Crime Strategy in using a 4P approach – Prepare by using intelligence and information analysis; Prevent and disrupt criminal activity from 42 happening in the first place; Protect the environment and harm to human health and to Pursue would-be criminals and poor performers using disruption and enforcement to stop them engaging again. The Environment Agency works in partnership with other Law Enforcement agencies and the waste business to gather intelligence on crime in the waste sector across England. Such criminality is assessed according to the potential threat, risk and harm posed. This information formulates our strategic assessment of these emerging issues which is used to align the right tactical resources to tackle this crime at the front line.

Transition period risks after leaving the EU

The report says that although the UK has left the EU, as we come to the end of the transition period there is a risk of being poorly prepared to implement the changes needed to continue to achieve positive outcomes within our expanded areas of responsibility. The UK is legally committed to the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) which will come into force at the end of the transition period. We continue to work to understand how the implementation of the NIP will affect our work; in particular the regulation of waste shipments, chemicals, fluorinated gases and ozone-depleting substances. There will be opportunities to improve retained EU legislation following the transition period.

Our activity through the transition period may be undermined by problems in the communication and engagement needed to influence and inform. We need to ensure the new policies and laws evolving for after the transition period are beneficial for the environment, do not reduce our ability to enforce environmental law, or miss opportunities to achieve better outcomes. We are exploring the risks arising from the Northern Ireland Protocol and the potential impact of trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.

On 12 June, the UK Government officially informed the EU that it would not be seeking an extension to the transition period. At the time of writing, we do not have a clear indication if a free trade agreement will be reached by the 31 December. With this in mind, we are continuing to use a planning assumption of no Free Trade Agreement for our work planning for the rest of this year and beyond. Our previous work in preparation for the UK leaving the EU without an agreement provides a good basis for planning.

To read the full report go to

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Adam Hewitt

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