From mattresses to oily rubbish and syringes, illegal rubbish piles up in mountains while the government stands by
First released at 01.00, Wednesday, November 24, 2021, Eastern Standard Time
They made millions from it. They threatened our health and poisoned the land. The dirt they buried included industrial quantities of syringes, bloody bandages, oil from scrapped cars, plastic fragments and asbestos. The truck fleet departed from Birmingham, the furthest point, and unloaded at the location where the two were operating in South Wales to avoid paying landfill taxes. However, although these people are responsible for one of the largest illegal dumping crimes in history, the worst things they suffered last week were probation, community service, fines and confiscation orders. The sum of these fines and confiscation orders is about theirs. Know one-tenth of income.
In the past few months, we have begun to notice the almost unregulated pollution of our rivers and oceans. But almost no one knows what happened in this land. If anything, it's even worse. Illegal dumping of waste, most of which is dangerous, and most of it is continuous, is now a large-scale crisis in the UK, which is caused by a shocking government failure. Large areas of land and important groundwater sources are being polluted by illegal dumping, and almost no one cares.
Waste disposal in this country relies heavily on self-discipline. It is up to you to check whether the person you hand over the waste to is a registered and responsible carrier. But a study by Ray Purdy of Oxford University Law School and Mat Crocker, former deputy director of the Waste Management Department of the Environment Agency, on waste dumping and unregistered waste carriers in the UK showed that inspections are almost impossible. Hundreds of different companies use the same names in the UNEP official register, and these names are usually not related to the names they advertise or trade. Many provide false names and false locations, including abandoned buildings, stadiums, and in one case, Premier Inn. A technical failure that has not been repaired after five years has ensured that the site is almost non-operational.
Surprisingly, Purdy and Crocker found that the Environment Agency did not have online traffic data, nor did they study how many people knew about the existence of the register. No facilities for illegally operating businesses are reported on the register. In the past three years, although 140,000 companies have applied to be listed as waste processors, the Environment Agency has rejected only 19 companies. Despite extensive evidence of fraud and multiple prosecutions, only two registrations were subsequently revoked. Frequent spelling errors in company names and addresses indicate that even the most basic checks were not carried out.
But this is the least. Purdy and Crocker's research shows that most companies do not appear on the list at all. Among the thousands of waste disposers they sampled, they found that nearly two-thirds were not registered and were therefore operating illegally. They estimate that, combined, there are more than a quarter of unregistered waste processors in England.
Purdy and Crocker investigated advertisements placed by people who provided trash removal, and they reported that many people who appeared to be self-employed ("people and trucks") actually belonged to organized networks. Of the 10,426 ads they tracked on Gumtree, they found that only two organizations had purchased more than 4,000, and the two organizations’ annual advertising costs on the platform totaled approximately £300,000. However, these ads claim to promote local small businesses. Researchers estimate that every truck in the network can allow the organization to evade taxes of 132,000 pounds. They believe that the return on investment of a company with 100 fake self-employed operators is between 40 to 1 and 80 to 1. Here, just like in Italy, we seem to have a rubbish mafia. But unlike the Italian mafia, our mafia rarely needs to resort to intimidation or violence, because no one can stop them. The report shows that a total of 1 million to 6 million tons of waste are processed outside the legal system in the UK each year. Illegal dumping of waste can contaminate soil, water, and—when it is intentionally burned or spontaneously combusted—the air contains large amounts of toxins, most of which may not be monitored and recorded. The more dangerous the waste, the greater the incentive to cut corners.
We don’t know what impact it will have on our health and the health of other organisms, or the cost of clean-up as a result of this alarming regulatory failure. In a rare prosecution in 2019, the court was told that if pollutants seep into Bristol’s water supply and a large-scale illegal dumping of garbage in a quarry near Chew Valley Lake, Somerset, it may end up Costs us up to 9 billion pounds in repair costs. Other settlements.
Rusty barrels filmed at an illegal dump in Pibright, Surrey, are suspected of containing highly toxic PCBs. According to reports, an unknown yellow substance leaked from the site into the local river. If some of this sludge flows out of the bucket, the possible consequences are almost impossible to calculate. According to the ENDS report, local activists claimed that the Surrey County Council and the Environment Agency had known the identities of the people who used the site since 2009, but failed to take legal action against them.
In rare cases, when the Environment Agency or equivalent agencies elsewhere in the UK can find the money to buy a pair of Wellington boots and a high-top jacket and send someone to check it, they will often issue repeated warnings before taking action. Even so, the most common penalty is a fixed penalty notice. If the case goes to court, those who may have made a fortune through illegal activities will be fined several hundred pounds. In a recent prosecution, a man was found operating an illegal dump, which contained more than 600 tons of waste, and there was evidence that he had been burning hazardous materials. He was fined 840 pounds. UNEP announced that "we hope this case will send a clear message." It will, but not what it wants.
This is a familiar story: Regulation almost completely collapsed. The failure of the UNEP waste registration looks similar to the farce of company registration, and Oliver Bro has revealed this destructively. This story reminds me of the catastrophic failure to protect the elderly and vulnerable groups from fraud, and the catastrophic failure of dumping untreated sewage and farm manure in our rivers and oceans.
All these failures are the inevitable result of 40 years of “cutting red tape”, cutting budgets of regulators, outsourcing, and self-reporting. We got the promise of freedom. But the people released by our government are criminals. Another dirty business is cleaning up.
George Monbiot is a columnist for the Guardian