Companies intending to spread waste on land do not need a waste management licence, but are required to pre-notify the Agency of their plans and may only use waste which will result in "agricultural benefit" or "ecological improvement".
Following recommendations from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution last year, the Government promised to review the licensing exemption in response to concern that higher landfill and effluent charges are encouraging unsuitable landspreading practices (ENDS Report 264, pp 32-34 ).
The prosecution in Kent involved paper sludge from UK Paper's Kemsley mill. UK Paper had disposed of the waste to its own landfill until 1994, when it hired England Environmental to spread the sludge on land. It now has a different waste contractor because England went into liquidation earlier this year.
In July, West Malling magistrates found England Environmental guilty of five offences of disposing of waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment, contrary to section 33(1)(c) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as well as two "duty of care" offences under section 34. It was fined £7,500 for the disposal offences and £1,000 for the duty of care offences, and ordered to pay £4,240 costs.
After receiving numerous complaints about odour, Environment Agency officers visited a farm in Maidstone where the sludge was stockpiled. They could smell it from more than a mile away and were unable to stay in the area for any length of time because it was so obnoxious.
Officers visited three farms to which the sludge was taken during 1996. In each case, residents had complained about the odour, which resulted from microbial activity in the stockpiled sludge.
The case in Devon involved the illegal disposal of over 800,000 gallons of untreated sewage and related waste. Axminster magistrates fined Keith Dare, trading as ABBA Cleansing Services, £9,000 with £728 costs for illegally depositing controlled waste.
The Agency said that Mr Dare applied "excessive" amounts of food wastes at five different sites - including 6,068 tonnes at a single site. In addition to these deposits, which would be permissible in smaller quantities, he applied wastes that cannot be landspread - cesspit and clinical waste containing condoms and panty liners.
One site near Axminster was left with large pools of off-white liquid and sanitary items. An Agency officer witnessed a tanker emptying its load just inside the entrance to a field without any attempt to spread the contents evenly.
Trading as Total Clear, Paul Bryant undertook house clearances and rubbish collections as an owner-driver. Despite several letters from waste regulation officers who saw his advertisement in a local magazine in 1994, Mr Bryant failed to register as a waste carrier. Investigations in 1995 revealed that he was dumping waste at four locations.
Legal proceedings began in December 1995, and Mr Bryant was later arrested for failing to attend court. In April this year, he pleaded guilty to eight charges of illegally depositing controlled waste under section 33(1)(a) of the 1990 Act, and one count of failing to obtain registration as a waste carrier.
Separately, he was prosecuted in July by the British Transport Police and the local constabulary. He was found guilty of depositing waste on railway property, in breach of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, wilfully obstructing a police officer, various motoring offences, and handling stolen goods.
The magistrates considered the Agency and police prosecutions together and gave him concurrent jail sentences totalling six months - against which Mr Bryant immediately appealed. On 25 July, Bristol Crown Court reduced the sentence for depositing waste from six to four months, but a consecutive sentence for handling stolen goods meant the total penalty remained at six months.
James McCaul had built up a huge pile of waste in the open at a farm. Neighbours on an industrial estate near Lingfield complained of nuisances including vermin, noise and dust.
Mr McCaul's licence stated that waste could only be received and sorted in a building roofed and covered on three sides. He had been granted time extensions to comply with the conditions but failed to do so despite several warnings. Mr McCaul abandoned the site last December, and the waste pile remains a liability for the site's freeholders.
John Hodgson, owner of Scotkem Industrial Chemicals, was fined £7,000, with £1,930 costs, after admitting charges including failure to notify the Agency of disposal of special waste, duty of care breaches, and disposal of waste in a manner likely to cause harm to human health.
The drums were old stock from the previous occupiers of the food factory, and Parker Foods was unaware of the need to raise a consignment note when passing special waste to a contractor. The company was found guilty of disposing of special waste in a manner likely to pollute the environment.