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Partnership is key for positive progress

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Piles of scrap tyres
Working with industry experts to tackle illegal waste exports

Lee Marrs, Intelligence Research Officer at the Environment Agency, discusses working with industry partners to prevent the illegal export of waste.

Last month we took big strides towards our ambition to stop illegal export of waste to protect the environment and human health.

We held a conference bringing together industry partners, influential shipping lines, including Maersk and Competition and Markets Agency (CMA), freight forwarders, UK governing bodies and members of tyres and recycling associations. The aim of the day was to highlight the legal responsibilities of all involved in the waste exports market to establish a collaboration between them and us.

Conference delegates learned many lessons:

  • The reality that the law places a duty of care on everyone involved in the movement of waste for export.
  • In failing to do simple up front checks, they are legitimising illegal waste exports and there are consequences for this.
  • The overwhelming evidence that we must work together to dramatically reduce illegal waste exports to protect the environment and people.

I was thrilled to see such fantastic attendance from many large companies. This gave us our best opportunity to help them understand the issues and how together we can prevent these. Through simple checks before waste leaves our shores, costly repatriations can be prevented. This message was echoed throughout the day from our Illegal Waste Exports team and external partners, including The European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) and The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL).

IMPEL opened the conference, presenting the work of the Shipment of Waste Enforcement Actions Project (SWEAP). This really emphasised to everyone where the common trends are in illegal waste exports, from paperwork administrative offences to contaminated waste loads. Delegates couldn’t ignore the clear evidence uncovered by the SWEAP project that shows where we all need to focus our attention!

INTERPOL reinforced this, providing an eye-opening view into how we need to tackle waste crime pollution happening at sea as a result of illegal waste exports. Their 30 Days at Sea Projects have already achieved results, including the first ever South African conviction for maritime pollution and 1318 arrests for numerous waste crime pollution offenses. For me this really showed the scale of the problem we all face and how it will take all of us to stop these crimes and bring offenders to justice.

Bringing the focus to plastic waste exports from the UK, Carl, one of our Technical and Port Officers shared a case study from his own personal experience of tackling this problem, presenting information on trends and risks. The case study highlighted a recovery facility entered onto exports documentation. By doing a small amount of research he discovered that the destination address for the waste plastic was in fact a hairdressers! Amusing but, the message was strong and clear - criminals will enter false information onto an Annex VII in an attempt to mislead us or hoping we will not check. Industries as well as us can and should carry out these checks. This is a really quick, effective way to reduce opportunities for criminals to break the rules. To bring home the importance of doing these checks, Carl played a BBC video that showed plastic being dumped and burned in the deserts of Turkey. This had a powerful impact on everyone watching, showing how important it is that we work together to protect and preserve both environment and human health.

Onto tyres and what happens when they become scrap. In my role as an Intelligence Research Officer, I presented delegates with the ugly truth about the volume of scrap tyres illegally exported to India and Pakistan. I shared how intelligence we received led us to discover that a facility who are only allowed to export two containers per week, were actually exporting 30 containers per week. Hearing this shocked numerous attendees. I explained the vital role those present have in reducing the chances of a costly repatriation or quay fees by implementing simple checks into their booking process. They would soon know if that booking is legal or not.

Showing photos from his inspections checking for End of Waste status, Technical Officer, Graham explained End of Waste status is achieved via one of three ways:

  • Complying with End of Waste Regulations
  • Meeting an End of Waste test standard
  • Following End of Waste quality protocol.

He explained to delegates how it applies to exports, detailing the risks, including huge reputational damage to those companies at the conference, if they are involved in the movement of material that has not been certified as End of Waste. This soon had attendees realising collaboration with the Environment Agency would be beneficial to their company.

Positive change began on the day, with Turkon Line leaving with ideas for new procedures to put in place within their business so they can play their part in reducing illegal waste movements. Post conference we’ve heard from shipping lines and freight forwarders telling us they are looking at implementing the checks into their booking procedures and are truly on board with collaborating with us. This is an absolute joy for me and my colleagues confirming that what we started at this conference, with those partners and companies, is already making a difference

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  1. Comment by Derrick R Guy posted on

    There is a miss-match here, as in many areas for which the EA is responsible, between what the EA thinks is doing a good job, and the public's perception of what the problem actually is.

    The public perception of waste export comes from the revelation earlier this year that the Government minister in charge (you all know who that is) gave financial incentives to his close friends and aquaintances, by way of subsidies using public money, to export the majority of UK recycling waste for 'processing' in countries the other side of the planet. Ignoring the requirements of the receiving companies to actually be able to process the waste, when the scandal hit the UK media the British public was shown proof that UK derived waste (ie yours and mine) was being left unprocessed, and stockpiled in the receiving countries, with no arrangements or capacity to be returned to sender. At the same time UK media channels were also showing that hopelessly inadequate processing of waste in Asian countries bordering the Pacific was resulting in plastic getting washed from river banks into the sea in such astronomical amounts that by now all oceans show levels of pollution sufficient to harm all forms of life that call the ocean their home.

    The conference referred to in the Blog seems to concentrate on what regulatory controls can be applied in the UK to ensure correct and appropriate treatment of waste once imported into the receiving countries. The answer of course is absolutely non. Britain has no jurisdiction whatever inside third countries and it is a dereliction of duty to believe otherwise. It can also be argued that Britain has extremely weak jurisdiction over UK based companies when there is a quick profit to be had, and the ear of self-interested government ministers to facilitate.

    The EA should be taking the world view and insisting that ALL UK waste is processed within the UK, making the export of ANY waste illegal. Perhaps then it will be incentivised to seriously start to promote the active reduction of the mountains of waste we have all come to regard as normal.

  2. Comment by Penny Burt posted on

    The link to this article, 'Partnership is king for positive progress', is on the EA's Easinet home page, underneath a leading article entitled 'Breaking Bias this International Women's Day, 8th March. Quite amusing.

    • Replies to Penny Burt>

      Comment by Dave Marshall posted on

      Hi Penny, it's taken a bit of time but I'm pleased to say that the title and link have been changed. A little bit of tenacity to achieve the right thing...


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