Breach of shipment of waste regulations leads to £590,000 penalty

UK-based FTSE-listed Biffa Waste Services Ltd (Biffa) was fined earlier this year for breaching Regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 after containers of paper for recycling were found to be contaminated with household waste. The fine was £350,000 plus an additional £240,000 in costs, reports international law firm Reed Smith, which was brought in as general counsel by Biffa in July this year. The decision was reached in June, with the amount of the fine decided in September.

In 2015, Biffa had arranged for shipments of waste paper to be transported to delivery sites in Shenzhen and Guangdong. When the containers were inspected by the Environment Agency (EA) at the port of Felixstowe, UK, they were found to be heavily contaminated with a variety of household waste, including shoes, plastic bags, videotape, electric cable, latex gloves and laminate flooring.

The export of unsorted household recycling waste from the UK to China is prohibited.

Biffa pleaded not guilty. It said that the materials had been inspected by a Chinese Inspectorate regime prior to being finalized for shipment to establish a purity level of 98.5%. The paper mills to which the waste was due to be delivered had been accredited by the EA as being of an equal or higher environmental standard as European paper mills.

The UK waste industry has long complained that the Environment Agency in the UK had failed to issue guidance on the acceptable levels of purity for exports of waste paper from the UK.

The UK and Europe do not have sufficient reprocessing capacity for recycled paper and cardboard, necessitating the export of large quantities goods for recycling.

Biffa has made an application for leave to appeal.