Interview: Michael Topham on why Biffa is an 'unfortunate poster boy'

Waste giant Biffa is appealing a conviction for illegally exporting waste to China. Its chief executive Michael Topham says the ruling, which cost the firm £600,000, could have implications for the entire waste industry

“The Environment Agency might feel it has won a case but all it has done is misled the public and further undermined confidence in recycling unnecessarily,” says Michael Topham, Biffa’s chief executive.

Topham is referring to one of the waste sector’s highest profile prosecutions in recent years. In September 2019, Biffa was ordered to pay almost £600,000 after being found guilty of illegally exporting seven 25-tonne containers of mixed paper containing household waste to China in 2015. The waste company maintained the material comprised 98.5% of waste paper – the industry standard – so could be legally exported. But Wood Green crown court found in favour of the Environment Agency (EA), which considered the consignments to have contained unsorted household recycling waste. Exports of such waste are banned. The EA says that, although marked as waste paper, the containers also held soiled nappies, food packaging, items of clothing and bags of faeces. 

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