Science & Environment

Record numbers of illegal waste sites shut, agency says

dumped car
Image caption Illegally dumped scrap cars continue to be a significant problem

The number of illegal waste sites being shut down has increased by 70% in the past 12 months, according to the Environment Agency.

Some 1,279 locations were identified and closed in 2012/13, according to its Waste Crime Report.

However, construction waste continues to be a problem, while scrap cars were found at a quarter of all illegal sites.

And the number of successful prosecutions was down by 30%.

The legitimate waste and recycling industry currently generates over £12bn every year in the UK, and employs about 128,000 people.

Environmental threat

Illegal operators, on the other hand, usually offer to dispose of waste at extremely low prices, and are said to be diverting up to £1bn per year from legitimate businesses.

Often the waste is buried or burned with no safeguards for the environment. As well as infestations of flies and acrid smoke, it can lead to serious pollution incidents.

While local authorities deal with most cases of fly-tipping, the Environment Agency deals with larger-scale dumping and illegal exports of waste.

Two years ago, it set up an illegal waste taskforce. Its latest report states that, over the past 12 months, it closed down an average of 25 of these sites every week.

"We've shut more sites down faster than ever," said Mat Crocker, head of waste at the agency.

"We put additional resources to it, we got more people in with the right skill sets, and we've also targeted our efforts at the right people so we can deal with it faster."

Image caption Illegally dumped tyres can be a hazard for humans and for the environment

While the number of sites being closed down is at record levels, the number of successful prosecutions for waste crime is down to its lowest level in four years.

In 2102/13, 171 prosecutions were completed, leading to five custodial sentences. In 2011/12, there were 249 prosecutions with 10 ending in jail terms.

"We target our prosecutions at the most serious offenders," Mat Crocker explained. "Quite often by providing clear information and following it up with the right type of encouragement, people stop.

"Prosecution is just one of the tools in the bag, really."

One feature of large-scale waste business is that dumpers are often clustered around key motorway links near London and in the North West.

The agency identified 820 active sites in March this year - the vast majority around these pivotal transport routes.

It also carried out inspections on shipping containers in an attempt to curb the illegal export of waste.

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