The failure to introduce digital record keeping in the waste industry is being exploited by organised criminals both in the UK and abroad, a report for the Government warns.
A review into organised crime in the industry, published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has found there is currently “little meaningful use of technology” – creating “ample opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling” of household and commercial waste.
In response, it calls for mandatory electronic tracking of waste and a national database of registered brokers, and recommends an industry-wide tracking system.
Currently, systems are largely paper based, relying on waste transfer notes, which are filled out by hand, often in triplicate, passed to hauliers, handlers and processors.
Companies must retain these notes for two years, so that even a medium sized company handling just 50 loads a day could “comfortably accumulate 12,500 paper notes in a year”, the review says.
It warns that as a result: “The lack of digital record keeping in the waste industry is frequently exploited by organised criminals, as it provides ample opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling of waste.”
This prompts its recommendation of a tracking system, which it says should involve standardised formatting of data to facilitate analysis and inspection by regulators.
“It should include all international waste shipments, to enable tracking of waste prior to shipment and through to final destination,” the review says.
“Waste transfer and registration data should be published on data.gov.uk, allowing industry, campaigners, researchers and officials to analyse and develop it.”
The review, led by Lizzie Noel, a non-executive board member at Defra, notes that the seven leading waste contractors all run digital tracking systems, meaning there is “potential for developing technological solutions”.
But it also notes the Environment Agency is hamstrung by being shut out of the Police National Database (PND) of suspects, as well as from the crime records on the Police National Computer (PNC).
The Home Office has recently granted access to the PND, but “on the condition that the agency updates its IT infrastructure to meet technical requirements”.
The review shows a 43% leap in the number of waste piles, those bigger than the capacity of a lorry, over a year. Some 14,430 multi-load sized piles of rubbish were found dumped during 2017-18, up from 10,120 in 2016-17.
Defra also said the involvement of serious and organised criminal gangs in the waste sector appeared to be increasing. Such gangs are often involved in large scale dumping of household waste.
Image by Jon Worth, CC BY 2.0 through flickr