Acumen Technical Director, Lauren Hill, was recently invited to share her thoughts on the way in which waste crime has evolved during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.

An Opportunistic New Waste Crime

The story of waste crime is one that is well documented in the press, often we see pictures in both the national and local news, waste dumped in another lay-by, at the side of a road or even down a dead end.  I’ve been involved in several projects resulting from waste crime in the past two years including repatriating waste back from Europe originally destined for recycling, clearing sites used for illegal waste operations and dealing with those operating outsides of their permits.  As well as the more traditional clean ups of fly-tipped household and industrial wastes such as tyres, gas cylinders and asbestos dumped in rural areas.

New Times, New Crimes

Since lockdown began in March last year, there’s a new kind of fly tipping in town; that of abandoned trailers of packaged hazardous waste.  A trailer parked up in a lay by of an A road, unmarked and inconspicuous, the tyres slowly deflating, a trickle of unknown strong smelling liquid begins to drip from the bed, waiting for someone to notice it’s been there for the past few weeks.

I’ve attended a number of these in the last 12 months across the North and Midlands. Always the same script – the trailer markings have been erased; labels have been removed from the containers in a bid to not be traced back to their previous owner.  It’s apparent that the waste must have come from a waste operator, the pallets all having been carefully placed on the trailer bed, albeit not always in condition suitable for transport with missing lids and clips, the integrity of the plastic degraded.

The waste contained in these consignments is typically that which requires trans frontier shipment across into Europe for energy recovery.  This not only costs the relevant Local Authorities (who unfortunately  are footing the cost of compliant clean up), but also the time and resource of the police and fire brigade, whose presence is usually required to attend to the health and safety of the public.  A comment was made by the police sergeant attending the first trailer that was discovered, “We don’t get many of these, but I’ll take your number should we need your help again”.  Never did I expect to see him twice again within the next 4 weeks.

The Pressure of the Pandemic on Waste Management

Is this a product of the financial pressures of a global pandemic, driven by the restrictions placed on safely operating in these lockdown conditions; or are some operators taking advantage of a lesser regulatory presence in these unprecedented times? Needless to say, don’t be surprised to find me looking through the curtains of an unmarked trailer at the side of a road.