09 Jan 2024
by Matthew Renshaw

Illegal or non-compliant soil & demolition waste management activities are on the rise in the UK.

Nearly one fifth of all waste in England is believed to be managed illegally, according to the Environment Agency (EA). This equates to approximately 34 million tonnes of waste every year, enough to fill 4 million skips.

Such practices result in hefty fines and damaging media coverage, following enforcement and legal proceedings. In the 2021/22 financial year, the EA brought 94 prosecutions against individuals and companies for waste crime offences, resulting in total fines exceeding £6.2 million.

Illegal waste management is often fuelled by commercial drivers linked to the waste management supplier or waste generating supplier.

New enforcement reforms target waste criminals and illegal practices, marking a clear shift towards more stringent regulation and enforcement.

Counting the cost of waste

Organisations have a legal responsibility to track and trace waste to ensure it is transferred, treated, and disposed of appropriately. Duty of care checks have become increasingly important as waste crime rises. The Waste Duty of Care Code of Practice gives responsibility for ensuring the transfer of waste to waste-holders who ‘will manage the waste correctly and safely.’

Waste management is a costly business. Over £2 billion is spent in the UK every year solely on soil waste disposal alone, via legitimate and responsible construction and engineering companies. However, much of this soil waste is still sent to landfill rather than being treated or repurposed.

While waste assessment and associated pollution risk assessment processes are often misunderstood or illegally ignored, legitimate construction and engineering companies continue to send soil, demolition and other wastes direct to landfill sites. If such wastes are contaminated, they can leach into the surrounding environment (if not carefully contained), leading to long-term environmental damage and pose risks to ecosystems, property, and human health.

Sustainable soil and demolition waste disposal 

There are more sustainable, cost-effective and compliant waste management practices available. These include sites where excavated soils (if deemed suitable and space allows) may be stored onsite and re-used within the boundary of the development or project site. This eliminates the cost and associated risks of improper disposal.

Where contaminated soils and other materials (such as demolition waste) are identified, assessed, and classified in accordance with waste management legislation, it is not uncommon for this material to be sent directly to landfill for disposal, regardless of its classification or more appropriate treatment or disposal routes.

The waste classification process is highly reliant on the accuracy of the data provided by the waste producer at source, and thus it can be a less than transparent process, where integrity often plays a secondary role to commerciality. However, sending waste to landfill must always be challenged as neither a cheap nor sustainable approach to waste management.

Furthermore, there are few alternative approaches that offer financial incentives for the supplier to use a more sustainable waste disposal route.

A cross-sector re-think is required to bring about more sustainable and judicial management of waste generated via the insurance claims sector, approaches which can be hugely beneficial in the fight against climate change.

At Crawford Environmental, our teams employ a range of effective waste management practices; that are sustainable, transparent, and fully compliant. These include our Zero to Landfill policy which is designed to promote sustainable soil and demolition waste management, and our Soil – The Cinderella Science guide on sustainable soil management for a healthier planet.

Our specialists’ work to reduce excavated soil volumes at source via judicial and forensic risk assessment procedures. By using market-leading in-situ treatment technologies and diverting wastes from landfill disposal routes – either via technical assessment and/or collaborating with charitable partners, where waste be re-purposed – we can mitigate the need for costly, environmentally damaging offsite disposal, while benefiting local communities.

Further, close management and monitoring of a supplier’s waste management procedures is vital in managing risks and reputational exposures associated with non-compliant and occasionally illegal waste management practices.

Going forward, insurers must challenge the standard ‘direct to landfill’ approach for dealing with claims-related waste disposal. Solutions are now available which are more cost-effective and enhance the environmental and sustainability credentials of all stakeholders, supporting efforts to reduce carbon emissions and the wider impacts of climate change. This is very much a ‘win-win’ approach to waste management.