Waste firm Biffa fined over waste for China found at Felixstowe
PUBLISHED: 12:32 28 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:13 28 September 2019
Biffa was fined £350,000 for trying to ship household rubbish to China labelled as waste paper fit for recycling.
Items found in the bales included sanitary towels, nappies, wet wipes and condoms - with the shipping containers reeking of vomit.
A search of seven 25-tonne shipping containers bound for China at Felixstowe found waste items including plastic containers, plastic bags, scrap metal and electrical debris.
Other items found during the search included laminate flooring, coat hangers, pet food containers, latex gloves and pieces of china.
Environment Agency inspectors even found women's underwear, bags of dog excrement and a 12-inch record by 90s band Deee-Lite.
Biffa Waste Services Ltd claimed that the bales contained 98.5% waste paper, which can be legally transported to China.
Shipping heavily contaminated waste to the country has been illegal since 2006 because it is not part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Biffa was convicted of two counts of breaching waste transportation laws between May and June 2015 following a three-week trial at Wood Green Crown Court in June this year. The company had denied the charges.
Jurors heard Biffa - which saw revenue of £683.6 million last year - used two brokers to manage the deal to send the waste to sites in Shenzhen and Guang Dong on the South China Sea Coast.
One of the brokers arranged a shipment of 5,863 tonnes of waste paper between Biffa worth £350,000, while the second arranged the sale of 4,992 tonnes of waste paper worth £290,000.
However, the Environment Agency prevented any of the seven containers from leaving Felixstowe.
The company claimed its exports were regularly inspected by the Chinese authorities who had never made complaints, and that its clients were capable of generating significant quantities of paper from the bales it supplied.
Handing Biffa a £350,000 fine on Friday, Judge Simon Auerbach said: "The principle of this environmental regulation is to the prevent export of our waste processing and disposing of the problem to other parts of the world.
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"Exporting to non-OECD countries is the very essence of the offence and the willingness of the Chinese authorities to accept it and their ability to process it are not, in my judgment, the point."
Biffa was also ordered to pay £240,000 costs to the Environment Agency and a confiscation order of £9,912, which was the total amount it received for the blocked shipment of waste.
Prosecutor Sailesh Mehta said contaminants could even be seen poking out of bales that were not broken open by inspectors.
Mr Mehta said Biffa had dismissed suggestions that its waste sorting process could be improved to prevent contaminants ending up in bales of waste paper.
The company had claimed its processes were already "as good as it gets" when ideas such as employing more pickers or slowing conveyor belts were floated.
"If all 1/8these ideas 3/8 are impossible, we suggest it is incumbent on the defendant charged with this important duty to start the whole system afresh," he said.
Richard Branwell, for Biffa, highlighted the shortcomings of the UK's waste management system as a whole, pointing out that of all the eight million tonnes of fibre recovered each year, just 3.3 million tonnes can be recycled domestically.
He said that Biffa's business model of exporting waste was vital to helping the Government meet its recovery and recycling targets.
"The paper export market has been under financial strain for some time and in recent years this aspect of the company's business has been difficult," he said.
"But 1/8Biffa 3/8 has remained in the game in the belief that it is an important part of the UK's recovery market and at some stage the recycled material will become viable from an economic perspective."
Representatives from the company - which is based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire - were present in court for the sentencing hearing.
Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste at the Environment Agency, said: "Illegal waste export blights the lives and environment of those overseas.
"We continue to treat illegal waste exports as a priority and will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.
"Between 2018 and 2019, we prevented the illegal export of 12,690 tonnes of unsuitable waste and are working with the Government on a number of measures to tighten controls, including increasing monitoring of international waste shipments and charging higher fees to improve compliance."
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