Last reviewed 4 June 2014

On 16 April 2014, North East Derbyshire & Dales Magistrates’ Court fined a Chesterfield waste business £16,000 after it pleaded guilty to one offence of illegally disposing of waste by incineration, contrary to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. The court also ordered the defendant, Richard Fletcher (Metals) Ltd, to pay prosecution costs of £3098 and a mandatory victim surcharge of £120.

The Environment Agency, prosecuting, informed the court that the prosecutions related to the illegal burning of waste at a waste facility run by the defendant in Chesterfield in early November 2013. On 5 November 2013, employees of the defendant called Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service to attend the site as a large fire had broken out at the facility. The employees explained that a small fire had intentionally been started earlier in the day but that it had gradually grown in size as the day had progressed.

By the time the fire officers were on site, the fire was completely out of control and was emitting dark plumes of smoke that were drifting towards the town centre. Fire officers recorded that it took 90 minutes to reduce the blaze to manageable levels.

The site was visited the next day by members of the local authority’s environmental health team who had launched an investigation into the fire. They discovered that large quantities of waste had been incinerated, including hazardous materials such as rubber and metal. They also noted that the fire was still burning, albeit on a much smaller scale than the day before and with the defendant’s employees monitoring the situation.

However, the fire service was called to the site that same day after reports were received that a bus was on fire within the facility. On this occasion, fire officers spent nearly two and a half hours fighting the blaze and dousing the remains of the previous fire.

Having received reports of the council’s initial investigation, an Environment Agency officer visited the facility following the second fire. She discovered that a wide range of waste materials had again been burnt deliberately on site, including construction and demolition waste, agricultural waste and more metal and rubber. The officer also noted the burnt out frames of two other buses in addition to the bus that the fire service had been called to attend to.

The officer reported that the level of air pollution on site was so significant that it caused her eyes to sting and made her feel nauseous for a long time after she had left the facility.

Despite having received warnings from the fire service, the local authority and the Environment Agency, a further site visit on 8 November revealed that more waste had been burnt, this time in a 200-litre drum. On this occasion, the waste included paper and general household waste.

As a result of these incidents, the Agency commenced proceedings against the defendant for the unlawful disposal of waste by incineration contrary to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. In mitigation, the defendant submitted that the offences had occurred as the result of the actions of employees who were unaware of the restrictions on disposing of waste through burning. However, the level of fine imposed by the courts reflected the flagrant nature of the offences and the lack of concern shown for either human health or the environment.

This case highlights the dim view that both the Agency and the courts take to attempts to dispose of waste illegally. Waste operators must ensure that they only dispose of waste in a permitted manner, whether this be by disposal at an authorised facility or by arranging for waste to be collected by a registered waste carrier.

This is particularly the case given the recent attempts of the Government to make compliance with waste regulations easier and more cost efficient. As reported earlier this year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ran a consultation between December 2013 and January 2014 seeking views on proposed amendments to the framework for issuing waste transfer notes. Although Defra is yet to publish a consultation response, new legislation has recently come into force (6 April 2014) covering the matters in the consultation.

In particular, the Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 introduce a new element of flexibility for those transferring waste. The regulations recognise that the transfer of waste need not necessarily be documented under a formal waste transfer note (as was previously required) but may be recorded by alternative means. This suggests that waste handlers can now use documents such as invoices to record the transfer of waste, thereby cutting back on the volume of paperwork associated with disposing of waste.

Interestingly, the explanatory memorandum to the 2014 Regulations states that respondents to the consultation responded 2:1 against a change in the requirement for waste transfer notes to be produced for all transfers and disposals of waste. However, Defra found that there was insufficient justification for these objections and that increased flexibility would be of benefit to waste operators. It will, therefore, remain to be seen whether the waste industry avails itself of this relaxation in the rules or whether waste transfer notes continue to be used in practice as operators seek the certainty of a defined audit trail for waste movements.

Defra intends to publish its formal response to the consultation in due course on the gov.uk website, and this may provide further insight into the types of evidence that will be acceptable in place of waste transfer notes.