Don’t get caught by waste crime:The new narcotics. 

In 2016, Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency (EA), referred to Waste Crime as, “the new narcotics”. 

Large-scale Waste Crime is as sophisticated and serious as any other type of organised crime, often having links with the trafficking of drugs and guns, theft, and tax evasion. With the EA and the National Crime Agency (NCA) knuckling down on all waste crime, ‘low-level’ or accidental, you could find yourself facing serious charges with some offences punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment.  

For individuals facing charges for the offence of Unauthorised or harmful deposit, treatment, or disposal etc of waste/Illegal discharges to air, land, and water, which is triable either way in both the Magistrates and the Crown Court, the penalty ranges from a conditional discharge to 5 years’ custody. 

For organisations charged with the same offence, the penalty fine ranges from £100 to £3,000,000 and with further aggravating factors, an unlimited fine may be imposed.  

See the below sentencing guidelines for further clarification: 

Types of Breaches: 

Illegal Waste Sites  

Across the UK, there are hundreds of sites which store or process waste illegally. In January 2020, a Defendant who had operated a waste recycling site without an environmental permit was ordered by Telford Magistrates Court to pay £4,500 in fines and a further £7,101.65 in prosecution costs.  


Another way in which profit from illegal waste is made is through providing a waste removal service, and subsequently dumping the waste shortly after receiving payment. In 2017, a man who spent a year collecting waste from people’s homes and fly-tipping it across Plymouth was sentenced to 20 months in prison.  

Burning & Burying  

Similar to dumping schemes, offenders will burn or bury the waste on isolated farmland after receiving payment for retrieving the waste. In April 2022, an illegal waste operator received a 20-month suspended sentence, a 12-week curfew, and an order for costs of over £18,000 after receiving significant financial gain from illegally burning waste. The owner of the land was also prosecuted for knowingly permitting the activity and was fined £2,666, as well as ordered to pay costs of over £18,000. 


Another profit tactic for waste disposable is the illegal misdescription of waste in order to pay a lower rate of tax. Materials which cause less pollution, attract a much lower tax rate, currently £3 per tonne, as opposed to the standard rate of £99 per tonne for materials causing a higher rate of pollution. In 2022, a former managing director of a waste firm was ordered to pay an £806,786.79 confiscation order after he engaged in waste misdescription to secure a lower rate of landfill tax. The Defendant also received a 15-month jail sentence for permitting illegal deposits of waste and 12 months for supplying false information in the subsequent investigation.  

Illegal Export 

Misdescribed materials are often illegally exported through the same means that ‘green waste’ is legally exported. Uncontaminated paper, cardboard, and some plastics are legally exported out of the UK for recycling. When hazardous or harmful waste is misdescribed and exported this way, the damage to people and the environment in the recipient country (often a developing country) is immense.  

What do you need to do? 

If you are:  

To avoid falling foul of the regulations, you need to: 

  • Check if your activity is covered by an exemption, which is free to register for and will last for 3 years 

If you conduct regulated activity and operate without the relevant permit, you will be breaking the law. For further regulatory advice contact Jess Jones at, or if you are facing investigation/prosecution, contact our Crime Department on 0151 281 9040.