EA inspections of waste containers drop by more than a half due to pandemic

The number of inspections carried out by Environment Agency (EA) officers on containers of waste for export last year fell to the lowest level in almost a decade, it has emerged, after the regulator revised incorrect data that had exaggerated the number of inspections carried out.

Data released by the agency last month had purported to show that 1,719 containers were inspected in 2020-21 but this has now been corrected to 869, which is the lowest number of inspections since 2013/14.

The agency said that “previously unforeseen technical issues with the recording system” had led to the mistake and that the numbers had been amended on 26 November.

The true number of inspections in 2020-21 represent a huge drop from the 1,889 inspections carried out by EA officers in the previous year. 

In a statement, the EA suggested the pandemic had led to the drop in physical inspections. 

It said: “Whilst regulatory visits to sites that could cause serious environmental harm did continue in the pandemic, in certain instances the organisation also carried out virtual inspections of sites to check they are complying with regulations.”

For the number of containers released for export, the original 1,542 was also revised down significantly to 693. This means that 176 containers found to be in breach of export laws, were sent back to waste sites in England, which the EA says saved the UK economy £685,612.

An EA spokesperson said: “Waste criminals show complete disregard for communities and the environment, and they need to know we are ready to take action. Last year, the EA prosecuted nearly 100 individuals and companies for waste crime offences, with fines exceeding £900,000, 28 custodial sentences and £1m of confiscation orders.

“We know how frustrating and costly waste crime is for landowners and communities, as well as those who manage their waste correctly but see others breaking the rules to gain an unfair competitive advantage.”