Waste crime, including fly-tipping, could cost the UK more than £500m a year ESA estimates ©Chris Radburn/Press Association Images
Waste crime, including fly-tipping, could cost the UK more than £500m a year ESA estimates ©Chris Radburn/Press Association Images

Half of SMEs acting unlawfully on waste contracts

4 January 2017

Many SMEs are not conducting proper due diligence over their waste disposal contracts, leaving themselves open to the risk of prosecution and unlimited fines. 

Almost half of SMEs are breaking waste disposal laws by not conducting the correct due diligence on contractors, the Environmental Services Association (ESA), a trade association, has said.

In a survey of 1,000 firms, it found 48% did not know where all their waste goes when it leaves their site, and more than a third admitted they were not sure if they had completed or kept the necessary waste transfer documentation. These are both key requirements of duty of care regulations. 

“You have to know all about the waste you’re producing as a business, you’ve got to store it correctly… but [duty of care] also means that you have to makes sure that you pass it onto someone who’s legally able to take it from you,” said Sam Corp, head of regulation at ESA. 

Even after waste has been passed onto a licensed business, firms still need to be able to demonstrate they have conducted due diligence to ensure it is not disposed of in a harmful or illegal way. Waste needs to be tracked to its final disposal, and that can often mean following it through several subcontractors, said Corp.

Construction contracts, for example, carry a high risk because primary contractors often subcontract work that produces waste. “That waste could then be passed on to someone else to take away, but the checks haven’t been made, and that waste could end up being fly-tipped or taken to an illegal site,” said Corp.

Although duty of care regulations have been around for more than 15 years ­– the key legislation being Section 34 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 – Corp said waste crime has been increasing.

Fly-tipping alone cost local authorities nearly £70m in direct costs in 2014-15, up 11% on the previous year, he said. ESA estimate the true cost of waste crime to the UK, including cleaning costs and lost tax revenues, could be more than £500m a year. 

Alongside the Environment Agency and other organisations, ESA has launched the Right Waste, Right Place campaign to make legislation easier to understand and comply with.

As well as the resources on its website, Right Waste, Right Place has been working with larger companies to engage with the SMEs in their supply chains. “We’re trying to use our ambassadors to help us gain access to some of the SMEs who we wouldn’t necessarily always be able to reach,” said Corp.

Among these ambassadors are Wilmot Dixon, National Trust and Biffa.

There are basic things a firm can do to protect itself from the risk of waste crime in its supply chain: ask for receipts detailing where waste is going, vehicle details and carrier authorisation numbers, and make sure you can show you’ve checked the facility it is going to is suitably permitted, said Corp.

“If the person you’ve used is on the face of it legitimate, but for one reason or another waste hasn’t ended up in the right place, then if you’ve shown you’ve taken all the right steps you’ve given yourself as much protection as you can,” he said.

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