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Insights // 27 February 2023

Update on EA Waste Crime Prosecutions

Partner Karen Jones, head of our Planning & Environmental Law team, looks at three recent prosecutions in respect of waste crime.

Since May last year the Environment Agency have reported three prosecutions in respect of waste crime.

First Prosecution

In the first, Springhill Farms (Pershore) Limited pleaded guilty at Kidderminster Magistrates Court on 25 May 2022 to failure to comply with nitrate regulations having allowed two and a half times the limit to be spread onto land. The company was fined a total of £120,000 (including fines for other offences) and ordered to pay costs of £28,125.19.

Officers from the Environment Agency were first alerted to the situation in February 2018 when members of the public discovered dead fish in Piddle Brook near Redditch. An investigation discovered a faulty pipe had started to discharge anaerobic digestate into the watercourse.

Officers were told that the company used a lagoon to store digestate and used an underground pump system to spread liquid as a fertiliser. Around 220 dead fish were discovered in Piddle Brook and another 100 at a marina further down the watercourse.

Farm employees said they did not maintain records of the volumes in the lagoon and had no maintenance record either of the lagoon or pipework.

Regulations were introduced in 2015 aimed at farms limiting the amounts of Nitrogen used on land in an effort to prevent the pollution of ground and surface waters. However, the company admitted there was no Nitrogen fertiliser plan in accordance with the regulations. It was subsequently discovered that 19 fields had been treated with amounts of Nitrogen that exceeded the 250kilogram/hectare limit.

Springhill Farms (Pershore) Limited, were charged by the EA as an occupier of a holding in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, that failed to comply with the requirements of Regulation 8 of The Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2015, in that in respect of certain of its fields it failed to ensure that in any 12 month period the total amount of Nitrogen in organic manure spread on any given hectare of land on the holding did not exceed 250kg, contrary to Regulation 41(1)(a) of the Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2015:

Second Prosecution

The second case involved the storage and burning of waste where the individuals involved repeatedly ignored warnings by the Environment Agency. Two individuals were sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, and each ordered to perform 100 hours of unpaid work. The pair, who had previously pleaded guilty, were ordered to pay £4,900 in costs at Northampton Crown Court.

The court heard how both had been storing and burning waste without environmental permits at a site on the edge of the village of Boughton. Nearby residents reported toxic fumes and seeing flames coming from the Boughton Springs site.

During lockdown of spring and summer 2020, witnesses reported ‘very thick dense smoke and very smelly’ and ‘acrid and very toxic’. Reports of fires that were ‘frequent and troublesome’ and smoke with ‘a very unpleasant odour’, were also reported. Neighbours explained they were unable to sit in their gardens, hang out washing or open their windows. One elderly neighbour experienced breathing difficulty when fires were in progress.

Environment Officers visited on several occasions to warn and provide advice on what material could be burnt legally. Despite these visits, the pair continued to burn material without permission and to store mixed waste illegally on the site.

In February 2021, officers visited unannounced after further blazes were reported. On arrival they found a fire made up of green waste in plastic bags, laminated wood, furniture, cans, and other general waste. Officers at the scene described the smoke from the fire as black, with a ‘toxic’ smell.

Sacks of domestic waste, carpets, toys and clothes were found at the site. Much of the waste was stored on bare ground, risking contamination to soil and water, creating an odour problem and attracting flies and vermin.

In July, the pair were still storing illegal mixed waste in defiance of officers’ advice. The Environment Agency, the court heard, had no alternative but to prosecute. The Court noted that they had demonstrated a ‘resistant attitude’ to the Environment Agency and a ‘flagrant disregard’ for the law.

Third Prosecution

The final reported prosecution involved export of waste.

A former company director pleaded guilty to causing his dissolved company, Berry Polymer Ltd, to export the waste. Shipping documents described the waste as plastic, which can be exported to Indonesia for recycling. In fact, it included nappies, clothing, textiles and rags, unopened plastic bags, glass, wood, golf balls, tins and food and drink cartons and electrical items.

Kidderminster magistrates heard that the former company director had caused his company to export some 382 tonnes of household waste in 22 sea containers from its site in Droitwich via Southampton and Felixstowe.

The company had agreed to sell 500 tonnes of plastic bottle waste to a broker at £270 per tonne. A purchase order confirmed the load site of the waste as ‘Berry Polymer Ltd, and they invoiced the broker £103,210.20 for 382.26 tonnes of ‘plastic bottles’.

The offence was discovered on 4 July 2019 by Environment Agency officers who conducted initial inspections of some of the 22 containers sent to Southampton and Felixstowe.

The inspections recorded significant evidence of contamination, flies and, in some containers, a rotting decomposing smell. The containers were deemed unfit for export at that stage and prevented from onward shipment to Indonesia. All the containers were returned to the site in Droitwich for reprocessing.

The former director stated that the material supplied was not as described because his company’s usual bale-inspection had either not happened or was sub-standard.

He was charged with breaching regulation 55(1) of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007, by causing Berry Polymer Ltd to transport 22 containers of waste collected from households to Indonesia illegally between 27 June and 5 July 2019. This was contrary to regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

At Kidderminster magistrates’ court on 10 August, the former director was fined £1,200 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. In sentencing, the district judge noted this was a ‘blunder’ by him that cost him his business and his reputation.

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice. A similar article was first published in Waste Planning Magazine.

Karen Jones

Karen Jones

Partner, Planning & Environmental Law

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