Stirling Lloyd Contracts was a relatively easy target for the Environment Agency, which had not previously brought a case under the legislation that placed tight controls on waste imports in 1994. The company, offering waterproofing and other structural protection services, has operations around the globe.
In December 1999, solvent recovery business Solrec, now trading as SRM, contacted the Agency about a consignment of solvent waste which had arrived at its Middleton site near Morecambe in 45-gallon drums.
Paperwork with the 63 drums described the waste as acetone from works carried out by Stirling Lloyd Contracts in Malmo, Sweden. There was no documentation to explain when the waste was moved, when it arrived and where it was going. Such information would normally have been sent to the Agency.
Agency officers discovered a strong smell of solvents coming from the drums. Some were damaged, and waste wood and rags could be seen in those with no lids. Officers also said that the load had been poorly secured and not clearly labelled as hazardous.
Paperwork accompanying the drums revealed that there was a second part to the consignment which the Agency traced to the docks at Immingham. The drums at the dock were crudely packaged with shrink-wrap, with no waste description or hazard warning.
In an interview with the Agency, Stirling Lloyd admitted that the two waste loads had originated from the Swedish operation, and had been brought into the UK without transfrontier shipment notes.
Appearing before Lancaster magistrates on 17 November, Stirling Lloyd Contracts pleaded guilty to importing the waste without correctly notifying the authorities, contrary to regulation 12(1) of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 1994. The company was fined £1,500 with £4,595 costs. The fine appears extremely small given the costs the company avoided and the Agency's case that the packaging and disposal arrangements were unsatisfactory.
The Agency told the court that Stirling Lloyd had avoided paying both the £1,281 regulatory fee and a returnable £20,000 financial guarantee. The Agency would have used the guarantee to arrange for safe disposal in the event of any problems.
The Agency also argued that the company avoided costs by not packaging the waste in a suitable and safe manner. Stirling Lloyd's intention was to sort the waste at its Stockport site, send the solvents to Solrec and dispose of the remains to landfill - even though landfilling of imported waste is illegal.
The Agency has arranged for the waste to be shipped back to Sweden at Stirling Lloyd's expense.