Biffa was found guilty of sending contaminated waste to China in 2015 © Biffa
Biffa was found guilty of sending contaminated waste to China in 2015 © Biffa

Biffa to pay £600,000 over illegal waste exports

30 September 2019

Waste management company Biffa has been ordered to pay almost £600,000 after it breached waste export regulations.

After a three-week trial in June 2019, Biffa was found guilty of sending contaminated household waste to China between May and June 2015.

In a hearing at Wood Green Crown Court last week, Biffa was fined £350,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £240,000 and a further £9,912 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

An investigation by the UK’s Environment Agency (EA) in 2015 prevented 25 tonnes of waste from being sent from Felixstowe Port.

Although marked as waste paper, the contents of the containers included soiled nappies, food packaging, items of clothing, bags of faeces, wood, tin cans, plastic bottles and electric cable.

During the trial, it was revealed Biffa used two brokers to arrange the exports to two paper mills in Shenzhen and Guang Dong in China. Exports of unsorted household recycling waste from the UK to China are banned.

The jury did not accept that the consignments leaving Biffa’s depot in Edmonton complied with the law and were comprised of waste paper. 

In the hearing, on 27 September 2019, the court heard brief details about four further charges against Biffa illegally exporting 42 containers of waste to India and Indonesia between November 2018 and February 2019.

Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste at the EA, said: “We want all producers and exporters of waste to be responsible and make sure they only export material that can be legally and safely exported for recycling overseas.

“Illegal waste export blights the lives and environment of those overseas. We continue to treat illegal waste exports as a priority and will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.”

A spokesperson for Biffa said: “Due to the lack of reprocessing capacity, the UK and Europe is reliant on the export market for recycled paper and cardboard. This case related to contamination levels in seven containers of mixed paper that were due for export to China over four years ago. At that time China was a core market for UK exported materials for recycled paper and cardboard, and Biffa was a key supplier to some of the largest, best-invested cardboard mills in China. 

“These mills were all accredited by the EA as being of an equal or higher environmental standard as mills within the UK and Europe and all our materials were regularly inspected by customs in China and by a Chinese inspectorate regime based in the UK prior to shipping. In addition, all buyers conducted pre-checks before shipping to confirm that the materials were 98.5% pure paper, which was the accepted industry standard.”

Biffa added the EA should work with the waste industry to develop clearer guidance on the acceptable levels of purity for UK exported mixed paper.

The firm has made an application to appeal the verdict.

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