Scottish Environment Protection Agency staff and their work tackling waste crime were featured as part of investigative journalism programme BBC Disclosure on Monday 31 January at 7pm.
The programme titled ‘Dirty Business’ delved into criminal waste activities – ranging from ‘man with a van’ flytipping and waste being burnt in a drum to large scale illegal activities with links to serious organised crime such as abandoned lorry trailers bursting with up to 41 tonnes of waste and illegal landfills.
The documentary saw BBC presenter Sam Poling shadowing staff on complex investigations including a site visit to an unidentified location, where a criminal gang had buried large amounts of waste underground resulting in environmental impact from the release of harmful gases and liquids as the illegal deposit degrades.
Sam also accompanied SEPA staff to a non-compliant site and on a site visit to a legitimate waste operator to see how businesses should be operating to stay within the law and discovers how criminals undercutting these types of businesses can impact on the industry.
Waste crime has a serious and detrimental impact on the environment, communities and compliant businesses, costing Scottish taxpayers tens of millions a year in clean-up costs, avoided tax and lost revenue.
SEPA says it launched a dedicated intelligence and enforcement function in October 2019 to deal with those types of growing activities.
The group’s investigative waste enforcement work includes the monitoring of over 234 active cases including 31 high priority sites, some linked to serious and organised crime activities.
“We work closely with partners such as Police Scotland, the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, Serious Organised Crime Task Force and cross border agencies to share information and work together to use powers that partners have to tackle this behaviour, using the latest technologies to help ensure we detect criminal activity and have the most accurate picture possible. Working together in this way means that we can make it harder for criminals to get a foot in legitimate waste businesses, and where these sites have appeared it will become easier to require those responsible to clean them up.”
“Waste crime stifles legitimate businesses’ opportunities to innovate and improve our environment and there is a need to continue attracting the right businesses to Scotland that will contribute to our economic growth while protecting and enhancing our environment. Members of the public and businesses must start thinking of ways to do things differently to limit opportunities for criminals to operate and gain a greater awareness of what happens to their waste. SEPA works with businesses to help them achieve compliance and understand their obligations and Digital Waste Tracking is one of the innovations which could help make compliance easier and help individuals and businesses to track what happens to their waste.”
Jennifer Shearer, Head of Enforcement at SEPA, said:
“We are warning criminals – your activities are firmly in the spotlight and compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable. Our dedicated enforcement unit is focussing our efforts on tackling the most serious non-compliance and illegal activity.
“Waste crime is best tackled on a preventative level and this involves a ‘Team Scotland’ partner led approach. By taking part in this programme we aim to highlight the extensive work that SEPA does and make everyone aware of duties they have in assisting in the disruption of these types of activity.
“For us deterring waste crime will take more than issuing fines and taking prosecutions where possible. It requires Scotland to realise the potential in developing vacant and derelict land for better use, engage in multi-agency partnerships and nurture urban and rural communities.
“In Scotland, businesses committed to doing the right thing by our environment will find a regulator that supports innovation and excellence. For those who do the wrong thing they’ll find a regulator that won’t hesitate to act. It is vital that businesses and individuals realise their duty of care, as the best way to stop waste criminals is to cut off their routes to make money.
“Criminals are resourceful, inventive and will find new ways to break the law – especially when money is involved, but Scotland’s enforcement agencies are working together to make sure we find them and stop them.”
Cabinet Secretary for Justice Keith Brown said:
“The Scottish Government and partners on the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce are fully committed to disrupting those who see waste disposal as a money-making enterprise that sits alongside other crime types such as violence, drugs, weapons and money laundering.
“These criminals will do anything to increase their wealth through undermining legitimate waste businesses and tricking unsuspecting customers. Partners on the taskforce will use every means at their disposal to ensure these illegal practices stop and that those who dump waste illegally are held accountable.”
Phil Davies, Joint Unit for Waste Crime Manager, said:
“The Joint Unit for Waste Crime works to disrupt serious and organised waste crime to reduce the impact on the economy, the environment and local communities.
“Our strength lies in bringing together agencies from across the UK, including the Environment Agency; Natural Resources Wales; the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; the Northern Ireland EA; the police; HMRC; the National Fire Chiefs Council; the British Transport Police and the National Crime Agency.
“Working together as the Joint Unit, we share intelligence and enforcement to more quickly identify, disrupt and deter criminals and make them pay for the damage they inflict on communities and the environment.”
Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association, Jacob Hayler, said:
“Waste crime threatens the natural environment, costs the public purse millions of pounds a year and severely undermines investment in responsible, legitimate, recycling and waste treatment operations. The Environmental Services Association is highly supportive of robust enforcement action, greater deterrents and tougher penalties on these criminals, who unfortunately all too often view our sector as a soft target.”
Allan MacGregor a member of the Resource Management Association Scotland (RMAS) Management Committee and Chief Executive of the Binn Group, said:
“Unscrupulous operators undermine legitimate businesses, stifle investment, and create an uneven playing field. We therefore fully support any efforts to crack down on illegal waste dumping activities and stop waste criminals from operating within our industry.”
How businesses and the public can help
Everyone can help tackle waste crime by refusing to engage waste service providers who are not licenced by, or registered with SEPA, and by checking that the person offering to pick up their waste is a registered waste carrier. You should ask for evidence of this and then ask where they will dispose of the waste and ensure this is a legitimate licensed site. Failing to make these checks is illegal.
Services that sound too good to be true often are – and could lead to waste being illegally fly-tipped or disposed of by other illegitimate means. For criminals carrying out these activities, illegal waste disposal and fly tipping is a serious offence with significant consequences and those caught risk a criminal conviction and a fine and/or imprisonment. SEPA can also issue Variable Monetary Penalties of up to £40,000 as an enforcement tool.
Everyone can assist by being vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity such as:
- Trailers left by the roadside or in isolated areas
- Increased activity at previously unused sites
- Movements of vehicles late at night or very early in the morning
- Unusual odours or increased fly activity
- SEPA also advises that landowners must be alert to the risk of their land or premises being used for illegal waste deposits and trailer or vehicle owners should also be aware of the risk of theft for use in illegal waste disposal activities.
Members of the public can report suspicious sites and behaviours to SEPA 24 hours a day, seven days a week through our pollution hotline online, sepa.org.uk/report, or call 0800 80 70 60.