A new taskforce has been launched to tackle the criminal waste industry which is said to cost the UK economy £600 million a year.
The new unit aims to crackdown on “serious and organised waste crime”, such as dumping hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported to unsuspecting countries.
The Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) brings together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HM Revenue and Customs and the National Crime Agency to help tackle the issue.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action.
“The joint unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”
A 2018 Home Office review into organised waste crime found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and in some cases modern slavery.
The new unit will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions, and push for heavy fines and prison sentences for those who are convicted.
Serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy “at least” £600 million a year, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs said.
Toby Willison, chair of the JUWC board, said: “We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment.
“These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights.”
Last year the Environment Agency (EA) stopped illegal waste activity at 912 sites – a 12% increase on the previous year.
As a result of prosecutions taken by the EA, businesses and individuals were fined almost £2.8 million for environmental offences in 2018.
The EA has been able to take tougher action against waste criminals following the introduction of six legislative changes since 2015.
It includes the agency having the power to restrict access to problem waste sites by locking gates and barring access.