Report reveals changing picture of waste management

The latest environmental performance, pollution and illegal activities in the UK’s waste industry has been summarised in an Environment Agency report, released earlier this month.

Providing a changing picture of the UK’s waste management industry, the report reveals positive and steady year-on-year growth in turnover, rising from £15.3 billion in 2008 to £18.7 billion in 2014. The number of permitted waste sites increased by 2 per cent between 2014 and 2015, mostly in the biowaste and waste treatment sectors.

With more waste being re-used and recycled, the report also shows that waste to landfill has decreased by 71 per cent since 2000/01, dropping from 22 million tonnes to 6.4 million tonnes in 2014/15. The amount of waste incinerated for energy recovery has more than tripled over the same period, rising from 2.4 million tonnes to 7.8 million tonnes. And exports of refuse derived fuel (RDF) from the UK continue to increase. Almost 2.8 million tonnes of RDF was shipped from England in 2015, compared to 2.4 million tonnes from England and Wales in 2014, and only 0.01 million tonnes in 2010.  The Environment Agency inspected 1,388 containers prior to export in 2015 to 2016, compared with 167 in 2012/13.

Increase in waste prosecutions

Detailing the enforcement action taken by the Environment Agency, the report also revealed an increase in waste prosecutions between April 2015 and March 2016, with officers shutting down almost 1,000 illegal waste sites. This is more than in the previous two years combined. Despite an overall decline in prosecutions brought against companies for environmental offences, the number of waste businesses that were prosecuted by the Environment Agency rose in 2015.

Illegal exports of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and household waste is estimated to have fallen by 17 per cent between 2014 and 2016, with a net benefit to the UK economy of £2.75 million.

The Environment Agency has new measures for tackling waste crime, which it estimates is diverting up to £1 billion from legitimate business and Her Majesty's Treasury each year. In April 2015 the Environment Agency received £4.2 million from the Landfill Communities Fund to extend and develop its work on waste crime and has set up a programme of projects, bringing in extra staff to tackle illegal waste sites and waste exports, poorly performing sites and those that mis-describe waste to evade taxation.

Harvey Bradshaw, Executive Director Environment and Business, said the results were positive but they urge businesses to do even more:

“This report highlights some significant improvements in the environmental performance of regulated businesses - which directly benefits people, the environment and the economy. Over the longer term these trends have been significant, and will provide a lasting legacy to the environment, as well as real financial savings to businesses.

“The Environment Agency will continue to take swift action to protect the environment, raise standards of poor performers and use new techniques to disrupt illegal activity.

“We urge businesses to do even more; in some sectors pollution is still having an impact on our air, land and water and the Environment Agency will continue to work with industry groups to encourage good practice.”

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