Waste criminals targeted in North East week of action

  28 April 2022
Local officers and specialist enforcement officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) joined colleagues from Police Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council Trading Standards, Aberdeen City Council Trading Standards, Moray Council Trading Standards and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in Operation Protector, designed to target criminals involved in illegal waste activity.
  • SEPA’s local officers and specialist enforcement officers joined partners at locations across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.
  • 59 commercial vehicles stopped and checked
  • 17 unauthorised waste carriers stopped – of these, 13 were issued warnings and guidance and four investigations triggered
  • SEPA officers investigating further potential waste offences uncovered during the operation
  • Householders are reminded to check who takes away their waste to stop it falling into the hands of criminals

Scotland’s environment regulator took part in four days of action last week targeting waste criminals in the North East of Scotland. The operation saw a total of 59 vehicles stopped and checked – and a range of enforcement actions taken for illegal activities.

Local officers and specialist enforcement officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) joined colleagues from Police Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council Trading Standards, Aberdeen City Council Trading Standards, Moray Council Trading Standards and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in Operation Protector, designed to target criminals involved in illegal waste activity.

Communities in the Moray, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Council areas are adversely affected by those involved in waste crime. SEPA is currently tracking around 200 unlicensed waste sites in Scotland. Of these, 22 are in the Grampian and Speyside areas with SEPA considering nine of these as posing a significant environmental risk.

Tackling waste crime is often very difficult due to lack of witnesses to identify those responsible. The week of road stops was designed to catch those illegally transporting waste, gather intelligence about the nature of waste crime in the area, and highlight duty of care to responsible waste companies and householders.

Caught in the act 

  • Vehicles which may be carrying waste were stopped including commercial vehicles, vans, vans with trailers and HGVs
  • A total of 59 vehicles stopped and checked. Of these, 17 operators were of concern to SEPA, with four of these triggering further investigations.
  • Drivers were given advice and guidance on actions they need to take to be legal in carrying waste
  • SEPA gathered important information which can start active investigations and potential enforcement action

During four days of activity (April 19-22), 13 warnings and guidance were issued by SEPA. SEPA also gathered intelligence to investigate further potential waste crimes, in relation to waste keeping and duty of care offences, with the potential for enforcement action to be taken.

Police Scotland’s roads policing teams also issued six warnings – these were around the transportation of fuel, and construction and use offences. Additionally, two drivers will be reported regarding driving with no licence and/or insurance, two vehicles were seized and six fixed penalty notices were issued by roads policing officers and the DVSA for overloaded vehicles, an insecure load and a defective HGV tyre.

Getting to the root of waste crime

As part of its ongoing commitment to tackle environmental crime and as an environment protection agency ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century, SEPA launched a dedicated intelligence and enforcement function in October 2019 to deal with those types of growing activities. 

SEPA’s investigative waste enforcement work includes the monitoring of hundreds of active cases including 78 unlicensed sites across Scotland which SEPA considers of significant environmental risk, some linked to serious and organised crime activities. 

Kath McDowall, Unit Manager at SEPA’s Serious Environmental Crime Team, said:

“As Scotland’s environmental watchdog, we take organised waste crime very seriously. Waste crime is an issue across all of Scotland and there are illegal waste sites of quite significant scale in the North East. 

“Waste crime is best tackled on a preventative level. By taking part in Operation Protector, SEPA aims to highlight the extensive work we do ​with partner agencies and make everyone is aware of duties they have in making sure waste gets to the right place and doesn't end up flytipped. 

“During the four days of action, we have been able to issue advice and guidance to people who carry waste, raise awareness of the importance of holding a waste carrier registration and duty of care, ​and will investigate further some potential waste offences uncovered during the Operation.

"We would encourage anyone that witnesses any illegal waste activity or fly-tipping incidents to report it immediately through the Dumb Dumpers website at www.dumbdumpers.org.uk or if the incident is ongoing or believed to be of a hazardous nature report the incident using our 24-hour Pollution Hotline or online at www.sepa.org.uk/report

Inspector Claire Smith, of Police Scotland, said:

“Organised criminals are profiting from the illegal disposal of waste seeing it as an easy way of making money. Their illegal activities not only have a significant environmental impact, but the profits made are then being used to finance other illegal activities. 

“Under ‘Operation Protector’, Police Scotland will continue to work with partners to reduce the harm caused by Serious and Organised Crime and to disrupt their activities wherever possible.”

Marian Kitson, DVSA Director of Enforcement, said:

“We want to be clear to businesses that profit should never come at a cost to road safety and we will not hesitate in taking action if people flout the rules.

“During this vital week of action alongside our partners, DVSA examiners reminded vehicle operators and drivers of their responsibility to safely maintain and load their vehicles to help keep the Aberdeenshire community safe.”

Vanessa Wilson, Senior Trading Standards Officer at Aberdeenshire Council, said:

“There are links between doorstep crime and waste crime. Rogue traders who doorstep call offering services such as gardening, tarmac and other home improvements often overcharge residents and fail to complete the work to a satisfactory standard.

“They can also be associated with failing to dispose of their waste in an appropriate compliant manner.

“Working closely with partner agencies is therefore vital in tackling doorstep crime as repercussions can have a detrimental effect on residents and the area in which they reside.”

Graeme Paton, Aberdeen City Council trading standards manager, said:

“‘As a Trading Standards professional, I welcome the opportunity for my team to work with partner enforcement agencies to deal collectively with the various aspects of criminality associated with waste carriers and its disposal.

“From our perspective, this is associated with doorstep crime and those who would rip off consumers with substandard work. Working collectively has obvious benefits as demonstrated by the preventative and enforcement outcomes of this operation. It is also an opportunity to reassure legitimate businesses that we take their concerns seriously and will act against those who would undercut them by illegal means.”

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

Members of the public and businesses must start thinking of ways to do things differently to limit opportunities for criminals to operate and gain a greater awareness of what happens to their waste.

How you can help

Everyone can help tackle waste crime by refusing to engage waste service providers who are not licenced by, or registered with SEPA, and by checking that the person offering to pick up their waste is a registered waste carrier. You should ask for evidence of this and then ask where they will dispose of the waste and ensure this is a legitimate licensed site. Failing to make these checks is illegal. 

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.   For criminals carrying out these activities, illegal waste disposal and fly tipping is a serious offence with significant consequences and those caught risk a criminal conviction and a fine and/or imprisonment. SEPA can also issue Variable Monetary Penalties of up to £40,000 as an enforcement tool.  

Everyone can assist by being vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity such as:  

  • 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 
  • Unusual odours or increased fly activity 

SEPA also advises that 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. 

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, sepa.org.uk/report, or call 0800 80 70 60. 


Notes to editor:

A range of assets can be downloaded from SEPA’s image library to illustrate this news story. You do not need to register to access.

SEPA works 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.

Everyone is responsible for the safe and correct disposal of their own waste. Find out more about you can dispose of waste correctly as well as further information on our website.


DVSA carry out roadside checks on commercial drivers and vehicles to make sure they follow safety rules and keep their vehicles safe to drive.

We also support the Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain and the Northern Ireland transport regulator to license and monitor companies who operate lorries, buses and coaches, and to register local bus services.

You can report a lorry, bus or coach driver or the company (vehicle operator) to DVSA if you think they’re breaking safety rules or conditions of their driving or operator licence: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/report-a-lorry-bus-or-coach-driver-or-company 

This includes things like:

  • Breaking drivers’ hours rules
  • Overloading vehicles
  • Using vehicles that are not safe to drive (unroadworthy)
  • Using emission cheat devices
  • Carrying dangerous or hazardous goods without permission
  • Driving an excessively smoking lorry or bus