SEPA warns business and public to be on alert as new waste trailer crime emerges in Scotland

  06 August 2021
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is warning that a new trend appears to be establishing in Scotland, as a total of seven abandoned trailers full of waste have been discovered in the central belt in recent months. Investigations to establish the source of the trailers are ongoing - which could lead to the prosecution of those responsible.
  • SEPA is leading Scotland’s efforts to tackle new waste crime trend as seven lorries of waste found in North Lanarkshire in recent months

  • Research estimates £53 million is taken from the public purse every year in Scotland removing illegal waste

  • Scotland’s enforcement agencies are working together, alongside UK counterparts, to find and stop illegal activity

  • SEPA is warning waste criminals that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable and those caught risk a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £40,000 and/or imprisonment

  • Everyone is asked to remain vigilant and report suspicious vehicles and activity so action can be taken swiftly

  • Now more than ever, everyone needs to play their part in correctly managing Scotland’s waste and help stop waste crime

  • Public are warned – do not give your waste to potential criminals. Take steps to protect yourself, your community and the environment

Similar instances of waste being placed into trailers and being abandoned at roadsides and industrial locations had been seen in England over recent months. Working alongside partners through the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce and the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, SEPA had been tracking this growing trend across the UK since last year, but seven trailers in eight months indicates this may now be a new disposal route for waste criminals in Scotland.

Jennifer Shearer, SEPA Head of Enforcement, said:

“This type of crime has a real impact on local communities, legitimate business and the public agencies who are working to tackle it. A high proportion of individuals or companies that are involved in waste crime are also associated with other criminality and sadly this activity has continued during the pandemic. Waste crime can cause serious pollution. It puts communities at risk and places further stress on legitimate operators. It also impacts investment and economic growth - serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year.*

“We know that criminals are inventive and will find new ways to break the law and make money – but Scotland’s enforcement agencies are inventive too and we are working together, alongside others across the UK, to make sure we find them and we stop them. We will continue to work closely with partners, often through joint initiatives such as the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, to ensure we can maximise our collaborative efforts to have the greatest impact, and ultimately stop this type of highly adaptive and lucrative waste crime.”

Clearing up after criminals

The distinctive form of illegal waste disposal saves criminals thousands of pounds in waste disposal costs, but the costs to others may be high. Money often ends up coming out of the public purse - according to 2013 Zero Waste Scotland research at least £53 million of public money is spent cleaning up litter and fly-tipping every year. That is money that could be spent on other public services.

Robert Steenson, DETER Strand Lead with Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce and Executive Director of North Lanarkshire Council said:

“This type of illegal dumping not only costs the taxpayers’ huge sums of money to clear up, but poses a serious hazard to the environment and our communities. These poorly maintained trailers are also being driven on public roads before being dumped and therefore create a dangerous risk to other road users.

“Those responsible have absolutely no respect for people living in the areas these trailers are being dumped and I would urge anyone with any information to contact SEPA or Police Scotland immediately. This type of waste crime has unfortunately became more widespread across the country and is often linked to organised crime groups who use it as a means to make money to fund their other criminal activities. It undermines legitimate disposal businesses and poses a very serious risk to public safety.

“We are working with our partners to safely clear this dumped waste and we will use all the powers at our disposal to identify those responsible.”

Vehicle or landowners may also end up incurring the cost of having waste removed and disposed of legally, which can be considerable.

Tackling waste criminals

SEPA has developed a more targeted approach to tackling environmental crime that directly impacts local communities and the environment. In recent weeks we have been able to confirm that 25 illegal sites or activities have ceased since the turn of the year, with partnership working across agencies being a key success factor.

Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans and Chair of the SOC Taskforce said:

“Those involved in fly tipping and other waste crimes will exploit any opportunity to maximise their wealth at the expense of everyone else.

“This is not a victimless crime and causes significant problems to the public, legitimate businesses and the landowners where the waste is abandoned.

“Partners on the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce will use every means at their disposal to disrupt this crime, but we need the help of the public.

“Everyone needs to ensure their waste is properly and legally disposed of and we are also urging members of the public who see evidence of these crimes to report it. If you see something say something.”

Help stop waste criminals operating

Investigations into the source of the trailers and waste are ongoing and SEPA is urging anyone who recognises the vehicles, or the waste within them, to get in touch.

Communities are asked to be vigilant and report any suspicious trailers left by the roadside or in isolated areas as soon as possible. If alerted to it early SEPA has a better opportunity to step in and take action, along with partners like Police Scotland and local authorities. The longer it takes to identify trailers the more chance there is agencies will lose access to essential evidence to help track the perpetrators.

Anyone who may have any information about these lorry trailers, no matter how significant it may seem, is encouraged to get in touch with SEPA as soon as possible. Similarly, if they see any suspicious trailers left by the roadside or in isolated areas they should report it to SEPA’s 24 hour pollution line using the online form at sepa.org.uk/report or by calling 0800 80 70 60.

Landowners are also reminded to be alert to the risk of their land or premises being used for illegal waste deposits. Trailer or vehicle owners should be aware of the risk of theft.

SEPA is also warning the criminals involved that their activities are firmly in the spotlight and compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable. 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.

The distinctive form of illegal waste disposal saves criminals thousands of pounds in waste disposal costs, but the costs to others may be high. Vehicle or landowners are likely to incur the costs of having waste removed and disposed of legally, which can be considerable.

Do not give your waste to potential criminals

As well as reporting suspicious activity, members of the public can help tackle waste crime by refusing to engage the services of people who are not authorised.

Jennifer Shearer explained:

“Now more than ever, we all need to play our part in correctly managing our waste. You have the responsibility to take care of your waste and if we trace it back to you, we can take enforcement action against you too. We don’t want people to be put in that situation so make sure that anyone who takes your waste for disposal is properly accredited. Take steps to protect yourself, your community and the environment.

“Remember, disposing of waste legally costs money. Services that sound too good to be true often are and could lead to your waste being illegally fly-tipped or disposed of by other illegitimate means. Anyone offering to take your waste away should be able to provide a SEPA waste carrier registration number and give you the name of the facility they will take the waste to – if they can’t provide this information, do not allow them to take your waste.”

 

Notes to editors

Videos and images can be downloaded from SEPA’s image library via the links below. You should not have to sign in or register to view these.

*Estimated costs of waste crime - Independent review into serious and organised crime in the waste sector

Top three Dos and Don’ts of Household Waste Disposal

  1. DO use common sense. If you are approached out of the blue with an offer to dispose of your waste so quickly and cheaply is sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. DON’T entrust your waste with someone if they are unable to tell you basic information like their waste carrier registration number and the named site they are taking the waste to.
  3. DO take responsibility for who you give waste to – if illegally disposed of waste is traced back to you then you could face enforcement action too.

Links for further information

The Serious Organised Crime Taskforce, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, oversees the work being carried out to reduce the harm caused by serious organised crime in Scotland. The Taskforce; featuring representatives from the Crown Office, Police Scotland, Local Authorities and the Private and Third Sectors; aims to reduce the harm caused by serious organised crime by ensuring that all partner bodies work together. You can follow the Taskforce's work on Twitter @SOCTaskforce.