The UK waste firm, Biffa Waste Services Ltd, has lost a court of appeals case to overturn a criminal conviction for the export of dirty waste to China.
The Environment Agency, which brought the case successfully against Biffa in 2019, welcomed the ruling, saying that the export of illegal waste ‘blighted the lives and environment of people overseas’.
The case revolved around a May 2015 incident in which Biffa dispatched 175 tonnes of waste from a plant in London, destined for plants in China.
The company had claimed that the waste was paper, but investigators stopped the containers before leaving the UK due to suspicions about their true content.
Biffa was fined £350,000 after it was found that the containers actually contained a mix of sanitary towels, nappies, and incontinence pads, along with food packaging and water bottles.
The company lodged an appeal with the court of appeals against the criminal conviction made last year. They argued that the waste they were attempting to export met China’s standards for imported waste.
Biffa’s arguments were rejected by the judges hearing the case. China had banned the import of waste materials from the West, including plastic, back in 2018.
The enforcement manager at the Environment Agency, Sarah Mills, said: “The court of appeal’s judgement in upholding Biffa’s conviction for exporting waste collected from households, labelled as paper, justifies our decision to prosecute the company. Illegal waste exports blight the lives and environment of people 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.”
The barrister who represented the Environment Agency in the court of appeal case, Sailesh Mehta, said: “The court of appeal has helped to clarify the law on the export of our household waste, masquerading as waste paper. This is a Europe-wide problem and this case will have far-reaching and beneficial consequences.
“The Environment Agency sought to enforce our legal and moral obligations, and to protect the environments of developing nations who receive our harmful waste. The export of our unwanted waste is a multimillion pound business, here and in Europe. The court of appeal has confirmed and clarified the law and given valuable guidance that will help in our fight to save the environment.”
A Biffa spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this outcome and are now considering our options.”
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