BBC Disclosure - SEPA's firm focus on tacking waste crime in Scotland

SEPA is committed to delivering One Planet Prosperity and supporting a green recovery. Tackling serious organised crime removes impacts on environment, communities to compliant businesses in Scotland. 
Waste crime is best tackled on a preventative level. This means a whole-SEPA approach. It’s not just about the specialist team, it’s about every interaction SEPA has with businesses that produce waste – to ensure that it stays within the legitimate waste community.  

In Scotland, businesses committed to doing the right thing by our environment will find a regulator that supports innovation and excellence. For those who do the wrong thing they’ll find a regulator that won’t hesitate to act. 

SEPA is not the only organisation involved in tackling waste crime. We work closely with partners such as Police Scotland, the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, Serious Organised Crime Task Force and cross border agencies to share information and work together to use powers that partners have to tackle this behaviour, using the latest technologies to help ensure we detect criminal activity and have the most accurate picture possible. 

We know that criminals will continue to adapt to find routes round regulators - and that’s why we will continue to adapt as well.  

BBC Disclosure: Dirty Business

SEPA staff and its work tackling waste crime will be featured as part of investigative journalism programme BBC Disclosure on Monday 31 January at 7pm. 

The programme titled ‘Dirty Business’ will delve into criminal waste activities – ranging from ‘man with a van’ flytipping and large abandoned lorry trailers bursting with up to 41 tonnes of waste, to large scale illegal activities involving with links to serious organised crime. 

The documentary sees BBC presenter Sam Poling shadowing staff on complex investigations including a site visit to an unidentified location where a criminal gang has buried large amounts of waste underground resulting in environmental harm including the release of release of harmful gases and liquids as the illegal deposit degrades. 

Sam also accompanies a SEPA officer on a site visit to a legitimate waste operator to see how businesses should be operating to stay within the law and discovers how criminals undercutting these types of businesses can impact on the industry.  

The level of detail SEPA has provided has been limited in some cases due to ongoing investigations. Further information on the sites featured in the programme cannot be provided.  

Tackling waste crime 

SEPA launched a dedicated intelligence and enforcement team in October 2019 as part of its ongoing commitment to tackle waste crime activity. 

This new approach means we are well positioned to tackle waste crime from a variety of angles, starting at closing off routes in for waste crime. Enhanced powers for SEPA also mean we can make it harder for criminals to get a foot in legitimate waste businesses, and where these sites have appeared it will become easier to require those responsible to clean up sites.  

SEPA’S investigative waste enforcement work includes the monitoring of over 234 active cases including 31 high priority sites, some linked to serious and organised crime activities. 

Waste crime stifles legitimate businesses’ opportunities to innovate and improve our environment and there is a need to continue attracting the right businesses to Scotland that will contribute to our economic growth while protecting and enhancing our environment.

SEPA works with businesses to help them achieve compliance and understand their obligations and Digital Waste Tracking is one of the innovations which could help make compliance easier and help individuals and businesses to track what happens to their waste. 

Jennifer Shearer, Head of Enforcement at SEPA, said:  

“We are warning criminals - your activities are firmly in the spotlight and compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable. Our dedicated enforcement unit is focussing our efforts on tackling the most serious non-compliance and illegal activity.  

“Waste crime is best tackled on a preventative level and this involves a ‘Team Scotland’ partner led approach. By taking part in this programme we aim to highlight the extensive work that SEPA does and make everyone aware of duties they have in assisting in the disruption of these types of activity. 

“For us deterring waste crime will take more than issuing fines and taking prosecutions where possible. It requires Scotland to realise the potential in developing vacant and derelict land for better use, engage in multi-agency partnerships and nurture urban and rural communities.  

“In Scotland, businesses committed to doing the right thing by our environment will find a regulator that supports innovation and excellence. For those who do the wrong thing they’ll find a regulator that won’t hesitate to act. It is vital that businesses and individuals realise their duty of care, as the best way to stop waste criminals is to cut off their routes to make money. 

“Criminals are resourceful, inventive and will find new ways to break the law – especially when money is involved, but Scotland’s enforcement agencies are working together to make sure we find them and stop them.” 

Don’t support waste crime 

You can help tackle waste crime by refusing to engage the services of people that are not authorised. Services that sound too good to be true often are - and could lead to waste being illegally fly-tipped or disposed of by other illegitimate means. 

Check that the person offering to pick up your waste is SEPA registered (link to waste carriers registry page) and make sure they tell you which licensed site they are taking it to. 

Be vigilant and report any suspicious activity including: 

  • trailers left by the roadside or in isolated areas; 
  • increased activity at previously unused sites; 
  • movements of vehicles late at night or very early in the morning; 
  • usual odours or increased fly activity. 

Members of the public can report suspicious sites and behaviours to SEPA 24 hours a day, seven days a week through our pollution hotline online or call 0800 80 70 60. 

Landowners must be alert to the risk of their land or premises being used for illegal waste deposits and trailer or vehicle owners should also be aware of the risk of theft for use in illegal waste disposal activities. 

Remember - illegal waste disposal and fly tipping is a serious offence with significant consequences and those caught risk a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £40,000 and/or imprisonment. 


  • Check the company you are thinking of hiring to remove your waste is registered with SEPA 
  • You can also contact us to check a Waste Carrier Licence number you have been given if you cannot find it online.
  • Remember that companies that operate in different parts of the UK may be registered with the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales
  • A registration with SEPA, the EA or NWR is valid in any of these three countries. Your carrier will tell you where they are registered.


 Waste guidance for businesses

 Further information