The illegal storage of waste issues for businesses

A recent prosecution by the Environment Agency highlights three issues for businesses with regards to waste material -

  1. not dealing properly with waste is a criminal offence – not having enough money and being ignorant of the law are no excuse;
  1. directors can be in the firing line and end up with criminal convictions for waste offences;
  1. responsibility for the costs of clearing waste from land can fall to a landowner even if the waste has been illegally dumped by someone else.

In April 2016, Environment Agency officers visited a site in Gateshead which was covered in construction waste, including wood, pallets, old kitchen units and electrical waste. There was also a skip full of building waste.

They established that a company had been a tenant at the site, but had left a few weeks earlier.

The Environment Agency wrote to the landowner asking for the waste to be removed – which it did at a cost of £7,000.

The director of the company was also tracked down and invited to an interview under caution (the company had by that stage been dissolved). Under caution, the director explained that if it was not cost effective to hire a skip for the waste from the company’s construction work, he would transport the waste back to the site and would only order a skip when there was enough waste at the site. He accepted that more and more waste was deposited at the site and he could not afford skips to get the waste removed. He left the site without clearing the waste. He also acknowledged that he didn’t now about the need for an environmental permit or about registered exemptions.

The director pleaded guilty to the offence of operating a waste site without a permit. He was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay costs of over £1,500 and also compensation to the landowner to cover the clean up costs. 

In this case, the Environment Agency was able to identify who had dumped the waste – so assuming the director had the money to pay, the landowner should have recovered the money it spent out on cleaning up the site (although given the facts of this case a full recovery may well have be unlikely). Other landowners with illegally dumped waste on their land might not even be able to trace where the waste has come from so may end up footing the entire bill for clean up costs.