The Environment Agency has put a renewed focus on waste crime in recent months. Sir James Bevan, the current head of the Agency has recently stated that "waste is the new narcotics" and that the "strategy is to work with the good guys, and really nail the bad guys".

This focus isn't a surprise; illegal waste crime costs England at least 1 billion pounds a year and can cause fire hazards, noise pollution and foul odours for the community they affect.

The question is, how will the Agency differentiate the "good guys" from the "bad guys" and how can companies stay firmly on the good guy side? Companies will be increasingly keen to ensure environmental compliance; those found guilty of waste crimes face larger fines under new sentencing guidelines, which can reach seven figures.

In July this year Mr. Terrance Dugbo received a record sentence for environmental crime in the UK. This reflects the Court's higher punitive powers.

Mr. Dugbo was essentially defrauding the government by falsifying documents in order to take advantage of Producer Compliance Schemes. These schemes were brought in to encourage effective compliance with The Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment ("WEEE") Regulations 2013. Producer Compliance Schemes provide funds to companies who dispose of WEEE to remove the financial burden from local government.

Mr. Dugbo's seized documents displayed carelessly falsified records. The documents contained clear inconsistencies including:

  • Road names which did not exist;
  • Collection vehicles and rubbish loads in multiple countries at the same time; and
  • Impossible weight limits, including a moped carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges on a single journey.

Mr. Dugbo has been sentenced to a seven and a half years, and has been disqualified from acting as a company director for 12 years after being described by Judge Clarke as 'a risk to the public'. Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings for £2.2 million have also been initiated.

Although this is clearly a novel and extreme case, it highlights the Environment Agency's tougher approach on waste crime and the harsher penalties available. With heavy fines and custodial sentences available now is the time to review your company's exposure. The new Sentencing Guidelines take a strict approach based on turnover with even micro companies (with a turnover of £2million and below) facing the possibility of being fined up to £95,000. Larger companies can easily face fines in the 6 and 7 figure range. Companies have a duty of care to ensure waste is transported and disposed of without harm to the environment and companies which are found wanting could be at the mercy of the Environment Agency.