Tackling fly tipping and illegal waste in England is hampered by a lack of data and landfill taxes, an official investigation has found.
The UK government lacks the data it needs to assess the scale of waste crime in England – and the incentives for criminals to enter the waste market have increased – according to the National Audit Office (NAO) . The NAO report released today, April 27, concludes:
- The number of active illegal waste sites in England known to the Agency fell from 685 in 2018-19 to 470 in 2020-21 . However, travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a decrease in the number of identified cases.
- The number of spill incidents reported by local authorities has increased in most years since 2012-2013 and reached 1.13million in 2020-21 – at a cost of £11.6million to eliminate incidents at large scale. Most incidents involved household trash, and the most common location for fly tipping was on highways.
- Based on a 2015 estimate, the Agency believes that there is widespread abuse of environmental permit exemptions for certain waste management operations.
- The Agency does not know the extent of the illegal export of waste that could cause serious damage in the countries to which it is transported. Since 2013-2014, the number of containers intercepted and found containing illegally exported waste has varied between 200 and 500 containers per year.
An NAO spokesperson said: “The 25-year environmental plan, published in 2018, sets out the government’s ambition to eliminate waste crime and illegal waste sites in England within 25 years (d 2043) The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out its approach to tackling waste crime in the Resources and Waste Strategy (the Strategy), and The Environment Agency (the Agency) is tasked with investigating waste crime to tackle serious and organized crime in the waste sector and is made up of nine strategic partner organisations.
“Defra and the Agency understand the nature of waste crime, but recognize that the data they collect does not reflect its full extent. They have pledged to improve the way they measure waste crime, including through electronic tracking.
“The large increase in the standard landfill tax rate has increased the revenue that criminals can potentially derive from certain types of waste-related crimes. The landfill tax increase has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill between 2010-2011 and 2020-21. At the same time, there has been an increase in the money criminals can make by avoiding landfill tax through misdescription of waste, illegal waste sites and certain types of fly tipping, £200m of landfill tax has not been paid for non-compliance.
“Organized crime groups are increasingly involved in waste-related crime. The 60 organized crime groups monitored by the Joint Unit are largely involved in other types of crime – 70% are involved in money laundering specialized. . During the first half of 2021-2022, the Mixed Unit led or participated in 24 days of coordinated actions with partners to prevent and disrupt the involvement of organized criminal groups in the waste sector, resulting in 35 arrests.
“The most common actions the Agency takes in relation to illegal waste sites are issuing advice and guidance (52%) and sending warning letters (37%). the Agency to investigate violations of environmental permit conditions and major landfill incidents The number of times the Agency prosecuted organizations for waste-related incidents rose from a peak of nearly 800 in 2007- 2008 to about 50 per year in the run-up to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Progress against the strategy actions has been slower than expected by Defra. Defra told the NAO that the COVID-19 pandemic meant that resources had to be diverted, and while some strategy actions have been completed , many are at the consultation stage An evaluation of the progress of the Strategy has been commissioned and will be published in 2027.
“The Agency has received earmarked government funding to fight waste crime as incentives for criminals have increased, but many other organizations involved in fighting waste crime have not. The Agency’s spending on waste law enforcement and crime has risen from around £12m in 2010-11, to £17m in 2021-22 in cash terms. During the same period, local authorities and the police have made decisions about resources in the context of reduced budgets.The Joint Unit and its partner organizations do not receive any dedicated funding from the government.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO added: “Defra and the Environment Agency agree that their data significantly underestimates the scale of certain types of waste-related crimes. The available evidence shows that waste-related crime is increasing and that organized criminals are increasingly involved.
“The government needs to target resources effectively and understand the progress it is making towards its goal of eliminating waste crime by 2043. To do this, it will need a robust set of performance measures to identify when stocks are not on track.”
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