Waste crime is ‘the new narcotics’ in the U.K.

Waste crime is ‘the new narcotics’ in the U.K.

  • The U.K.’s Environment Agency calls waste crime — where instead of delivering recycling or rubbish for proper disposal, companies simply dump it in the countryside — “the new narcotics” because it’s so easy to make money illegally.
  • It’s estimated that one in every five U.K. waste companies operates in this manner, and the government seems powerless to stop it.
  • In a three-part, “true eco-crime” series for Mongabay’s podcast, investigative journalists trace England’s towering illegal waste problem.
  • On this second episode, a lawyer describes her year-long campaign to get the government to deal with a single illegal dump site, but they failed to act before it caught fire. We also speak with a former official at Interpol who shares that his agency also lacks the resources to tackle the problem.

The U.K. styles itself as a leader on environmental concerns, but when it comes to dealing with waste, it’s got a ways to go in tackling the mountains of rubbish and recycling generated by every household and business.

Of added concern besides the volume is the way much of it is actually disposed of: a large amount of it is secretly dumped in the countryside in an illegal practice called “fly-tipping,” where companies hired to haul waste away for recycling or disposal don’t send it away for proper handling, thereby avoiding paying the fees those services require. The company’s drivers instead truck the trash to the nearest farm field or unattended lot and dump it, producing an eyesore, plus water pollution from leaking oil canisters, and even air pollution when these piles catch fire.

What’s more alarming is that an estimated 20% of the county’s waste is handled in this illegal manner: that’s one in five waste disposal companies operating like criminal enterprises.

Yet it’s so easy to be registered as one of the government’s recommended waste haulers that even a dog can do it — and at least one has (thanks to its owner’s assistance). Though these criminal practices would seem simple to stop, the government says it lacks the resources, and that’s not just a British problem: a former Interpol waste investigator admits to our podcast that they possess the bare minimum of staff and funding to tackle the issue.

“If one in five cafés were run by criminals, wouldn’t we know about that?” one of the investigators wonders.

Listen here:

In this “true eco-crime” series for Mongabay’s podcast, investigative environmental journalists Lucy Taylor and Dan Ashby are tracing the U.K.’s illegal “waste trail” from their quiet English town to the nearby countryside, and as far away as Poland.

This second episode is called “The Waste Jungle,” and is part one of the podcast series “Into the Wasteland,” developed with the support of Journalismfund.eu.

In episode one, the pair meets an entrepreneur-turned-freelance waste crime investigator who survived a desperate flight across the countryside from a gang of fly-tippers and their dogs, when his late-night stakeout went wrong. Listen here:

Subscribe to or follow the Mongabay Newscast wherever you get podcasts, from Apple to Spotify. You can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website or download our free app for Apple and Android devices to gain fingertip access to new shows and all our previous episodes.

Find more of Taylor and Ashby’s work at their website and follow them on Twitter for updates via @lucytaylor and @danielashby.

See and report examples of fly-tipping here at ClearWaste’s website.

Banner image: The U.K.’s recyclables, plastic packaging and waste soils the countryside across the country and as far away as Turkey (pictured). Image courtesy of Caner Ozkan via Greenpeace Media Library.

Fly-tipping is the illegal dumping of waste and recyclables in the U.K. countryside by waste companies, a practice which the government seems powerless to halt. Image courtesy of ClearWaste.

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