The Environment Agency has launched an economic crime unit to address “serious financial offences” in the waste sector, the quango has announced.
Waste crime costs the economy an estimated £1 billion every year and is often linked to other serious offences involving firearms and drugs.
Alan Lovell, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Waste crime is a blight on communities and our environment. By undermining legitimate business investment, it costs our economy an estimated £1 billion every year – money being taken away from other essential services to deal with the damage caused by waste criminals.
“The Environment Agency is committed to taking tough action and the launch of our dedicated Economic Crime Unit shows we will not tolerate organised criminals moving into the waste sector and using it to facilitate other crimes.”
At least 18 per cent of all waste in England was perceived to be illegally managed, according to a survey last year – that’s approximately 34 million tonnes across England every year, enough to fill four million skips.
The unit will be made up of skilled staff including financial investigators, intelligence officers and a financial crime analyst.
Powers available to some in the unit include: account freezing orders, cash seizures, pre-charge restraints and confiscations.
Emma Viner, enforcement and investigations manager at the Environment Agency, said: “Waste crime is financially motivated so we know investing our efforts in making sure it doesn’t pay will make it far less attractive to criminals.
“That’s why we are excited to have launched our new Economic Crime Unit, which will bolster our efforts to carry out financial investigations and tackle money laundering.”
In January, a man who was jailed for persistently importing and burning waste on a large scale at two sites in Essex was ordered to pay costs of £85,000 following a successful conviction.
Last year, a man found guilty of running an illegal waste site in Kent was ordered to pay fines, costs and compensation of more than £20,000 after magistrates said the offence was committed for “greed and profit”.
Environment Minister Robbie Moore said: “We are all victims of waste crime – criminals leave a trail of both environmental damage and ill-gotten gains, while gangsters’ misdeeds can even include drugs, trafficking and firearms.
“The establishment of the Economic Crime Unit provides another powerful tool in our fight against waste criminals who undermine legitimate business and blight communities.
“We are going further to remould the waste industry and combat cowboy operators, including by introducing mandatory digital waste tracking and reforming the waste carriers regime, meaning those transporting or making decisions about waste must demonstrate they are competent to do so.”