SEPA announces new weapon in waste crime fight

date04 December 2013

A new team to help tackle serious and organised crime within the waste industry has been set up by Scotland's environment watchdog.

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Recent experiences dealing with waste crime in Scotland have shown that there has been a change in the scale and extent. An increase in the involvement of serious and organised crime gangs who use their influence to gain a foothold in a legitimate market has meant that new approaches are needed to effectively and efficiently tackle the challenges it creates.

The new Waste Crime Team within the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) will lead investigations directed at tackling the most serious offenders, working in partnership with law enforcement agencies, such as Police Scotland, to identify and disrupt serious organised crime within the waste sector.

Calum MacDonald, SEPA Executive Director, said:

The waste industry is a cash rich environment and the significant sums of money involved make it attractive to those with an interest in money laundering. We have been working at Europol and Interpol level to progress our understanding of the issues, especially around international movement of waste. The investigatory processes and activities required to identify those involved needs a specialist, focused approach, which this new team can provide.

"Environmental crime is the act of breaking environmental law. Those breaches can be due to carelessness or ignorance – but we are doing a lot of work to ensure that organisations and individuals understand their responsibilities, and we will do what we can to help them. What we are tackling with this new team is deliberate and sustained law breaking by those who do not care what impact their actions are having on the local environment and communities. In addition, we are seeking to change the behaviour of waste producers, in an attempt to disrupt the flow of waste at the source. Law abiding members of the waste community must understand that they have a vital role to play in preventing this kind of crime, by ensuring they understand their obligation to only deal with other legitimate businesses."

The effects of environmental crime can vary in severity, and can include:

  • serious damage to the environment through pollution of land and water;
  • contamination of land and groundwater through uncontrolled disposal of waste to land;
  • fish kills resulting from illegal discharges to the water environment;
  • risk to human health, for example through illegal emissions of toxic levels of substances to air or direct contact with contaminated land or water;
  • hazards to wildlife whose habitat has been destroyed or contaminated.

Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) Chief Executive Steve Lee said:

The damage inflicted through waste crime is too often underestimated. There is no place in our society for waste crime, and any initiative that aims to tackle those willfully disobeying legal waste requirements will always be backed with CIWM's full and unwavering support. This is a serious issue, one that CIWM has raised many times, and we applaud the proactive stance being taken by SEPA."

Stephen Freeland of the Scottish Environmental Services Association (SESA) said:

Illegal waste activity can have a profound effect on the quality of life in local communities, while the considerable financial gains made by environmental criminals directly undermine the legitimate operations of Scotland's regulated waste management industry. SESA is determined to see tougher action on those companies and individuals who deliberately flout environmental laws and we support SEPA's new Waste Crime Team towards meeting this aim."

As detailed in last year's published SEPA Enforcement Report, SEPA's problem-solving approach targets resources on the most important environmental problems that are causing, or are likely to cause, harm to the environment and/or human health. It allows SEPA to be flexible and innovative in how experts from different disciplines are deployed to tackle specific environmental problems.