The cost of waste crime has grown exponentially, rising from £604m in 2015 to more than £924m in 2018/19. When the available data for England is scaled and applied to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too, the estimated cost to the UK as a whole “rises well above a billion pounds”, according to the ESA.
The report found that the two most costly forms of waste crime to England’s economy are fly-tipping, which now exceeds £392m (rising from £209m in 2015) and the operation of illegal waste sites, which account for an estimated £236m (up from £98m in 2015).
The research was undertaken for the ESA by Eunomia Research & Consulting, which calculated the total costs based on the impact to the public sector, such as loss of tax. It also calculated the costs to the private sector, such as loss of revenues and costs to the wider environment, which were offset by any revenue arising from fines levied against the culprits of waste crime and from any value in recovered waste.
Gavin Graveson, the chair of the ESA, said the report exposed “the unfortunate truth that, despite additional regulatory focus in recent years, the scale of waste crime has significantly worsened.
“Although understandably delayed by the pandemic, it is now vital that the government proceeds at pace with long promised reforms of the regulatory regime and we must make it much harder for criminals to operate in the recycling and waste sector,” he added.
Separately, research funded by the non-for profit group Material Focus, also published today, found that over 238,000 businesses could be handling waste illegally in England.
The report found that there are large numbers of unregistered people advertising on internet platforms such as Facebook, Gumtree and Yell advertising that they can move waste without any checks.
The research, carried out by consultancies Air & Space Evidence and EPR and co-authored by Mat Crocker, the former head of waste crime at the EA, examined who was advertising waste collection services online in ten UK areas. It compared over 4,700 business names to entries in the carrier, broker and dealer (CBD) registration system.
It found that the existing CBD regime “both does not function effectively and is being misused”. The research estimated that nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses, 238,741 individuals or organisations in England, are offering to handle waste that appears to be unregistered when advertising their services.
Ray Purdy, director of Air & Space Evidence, said: "In light of the colossal levels of fly-tipping and illegal waste dumping that are being experienced in the UK a detailed investigation as to where all of this waste might be coming from and who was moving it was long overdue.
“This research shines a light on how waste criminality is happening, providing evidence that there are extremely high numbers of people and businesses moving waste which appear to be operating illegally under the radar. We also show which social media and advertising platforms they are using, and that much of this activity might involve organised nationwide networks.”