A £110k fine was handed to recycling and resource management firm SITA UK on 13 January after it breached the conditions of its environmental permit for a landfill site in Albury, near Guildford.
Appearing at Redhill Magistrate’s Court, the company was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £8, 832.
The offence took place in 2013, and related to eight leachate wells that were deemed to be non-compliant with the EA permit requirement of a maximum leachate level of 3m above the base.
Leachate is the liquid produced by the breakdown of waste in a landfill site, which can escape into groundwater and nearby waterways, causing pollution.
The problem is sometimes contained via the provision of a clay liner. Some landfill sites employ on-site treatment plants, allowing it to be treated prior to discharge to a water course.
At the hearing it was also revealed that SITA UK had continued to breach compliance with its required leachate levels despite ongoing guidance and support from EA officers.
Pollution Prevention and Control officers apparently visited the site on several occasions in 2013, for monitoring purposes, and found that leachate levels remained high.
One EA officer, Neil Martin, said the company had left them “with no choice” but to take the matter to the courts, according to a January report in Letsrecycle.com.
In the report Mr Martin said that the EA always seeks to work with companies to help them operate within the law – and in this instance it could not have done more, he felt. Although prosecution should always be a last resort, SITA UK “left us with no choice but to take the matter to the courts.”
“This shows how seriously we take these matters and demonstrates that we will not allow the environment to be put at risk as a consequence of not complying with our environmental permits.”
SITA UK came into compliance with its leachate levels in February 2014, when the company supplemented on-site treatment of leachate by tankering the by-product off-site for treatment elsewhere.
The company is now capping and restoring the landfill, to reduce further leachate generation.
A spokesperson for SITA UK said: “Environmental compliance is a key priority for SITA UK and we have invested considerable sums in managing leachate at our Albury landfill site, bringing in specialist contractors and developing new infrastructure to avoid the risk of harm to the environment.