Last reviewed 28 January 2015

On 20 November 2014, Norwich Crown Court fined a scrap metal company £3600 after finding it guilty of allowing contaminated waste materials to be illegally deposited on land in Wretton, contrary to the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The court also ordered the defendant, Glazewing Ltd, to pay full prosecution costs of £4718.

The Environment Agency, prosecuting, informed the court that the defendant specialises in collecting, processing and selling scrap metal. It also has a small waste management operation and runs both elements of the business from a waste transfer facility in West Dereham. The site is authorised by the Agency for the storage and processing of waste materials.

The court heard that waste collected by the defendant is processed at the site and is then either sold or recycled where possible or sent to landfill if this is not possible.

The prosecutions related to waste that the defendant delivered to a third party, Glover Farming (West Dereham) Ltd, during August 2013. Glover Farming was authorised to accept and deposit agricultural waste over agricultural land it owned in the West Dereham area. However, this was subject to any waste received having a beneficial impact on the land in question.

In August 2013, the Agency received a report from a member of the public that large quantities of waste material, including plastic, metals and household waste, were spread across Glover Farming’s land. Investigations by Agency officers revealed that nearly 4000 tonnes of contaminated soil waste had been spread over the fields in question. This was not only an eyesore but also posed a high risk of contamination for the surrounding area.

Questioning of Glover Farming employees revealed that the contaminated waste had been delivered by the defendant for disposal. The waste transfer notes accompanying the waste had incorrectly identified it as being soil waste whereas it was in fact a mixture of soil waste, household waste and commercial waste.

Although Glover Farming had been at fault for spreading the contaminated waste contrary to the terms of its environmental permit, the Environment Agency held that the defendant had been reckless in the manner in which it had approached the treatment and disposal of this waste.

In sentencing the defendant, the court held that the company’s actions amounted to negligence. The court emphasised that simple checks would have revealed that the waste was not suitable for disposal in this manner and also that the waste transfer notes were therefore incorrect. The defendant had therefore failed to meet the standards expected of it under its legal duty of care.

However, in imposing the level of the fine, the court noted that the defendant’s actions were not primarily financially motivated and that there were other mitigating circumstances to consider, resulting in a lower level of fine than may otherwise have been applicable.

This case continues the growing trend of prosecutions by the Environment Agency for incidents caused by the breach of the legal duty of care applicable to all waste businesses. The case again highlights the importance of properly documenting the movement of waste (whether under formal waste transfer notes or not) as discussed in last month’s case reports.

However, and perhaps more important, this case serves as a clear example of the breadth of the duty of care imposed on waste businesses that applies from the moment that waste is created until it is disposed of. This means that any persons handling, treating, transporting, storing or disposing of waste must ensure that they do so in the correct manner, whether as laid down by law or under guidance by the relevant environmental regulator.

However, the duty of care obligations extend beyond the time when waste is in your possession. For example, when employing a third party to transport or dispose of your waste, you must ensure that the third party is authorised to accept waste of the type to be transported or disposed of. It is not a defence to say that the third party should not have accepted the waste if it was not authorised to do so — proactive steps to determine this for yourself must be taken in order to satisfy the duty of care.

A further example of the wide ambit of the duty of care requirements is where waste is being transported by a third party to an unspecified end recipient. In such cases, checks must be made to ascertain where the waste will be transported to, how it will be treated at its end location and whether the recipient of the waste is permitted to receive it. It is not sufficient to rely solely on the fact that the transporter is authorised to show that the duty of care has been complied with.

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