NSW has a new crack team out to find and prosecute the worst criminals in the waste industry, some of whom are serial offenders. But no need to look complacent, apparently one in three of us has illegally dumped at some time.
Waste criminals at all ends of the spectrum – from curbside mattress dumpers to organised criminal syndicates – are a big
problem in NSW. In fact one in three members of the community has illegally dumped at some point in their lives, according to NSW Environment Protection Authority.
The EPA is fighting back, with a dedicated crack team to catch and prosecute NSW’s most sophisticated waste criminals.
Chief environmental regulator for the EPA Mark Gifford told The Fifth Estate the Waste Crime Taskforce was set up in April this year after the agency noticed organised criminals and organisations engaged in “unlawful activities for economic benefit” in the waste industry. This includes illegal dumping, land pollution and theft of waste metals and other valuable recyclables.
The taskforce comprises a multi-skilled team of criminal investigators, intelligence experts, waste industry professionals and legal officers and it will priortise the most complex and dangerous waste crimes, including illegal asbestos dumping and land pollution.
The sanctions for these major crimes, as enforced through the Protection of the Environment Act, are reasonably severe. Mr Gifford said that the maximum penalties that the court can apply are $5 million for a corporation or $1 million or seven years imprisonment for an individual.
These penalties only apply where the offence was committed knowingly and wilfully. The worst sanctions go to repeat offenders, with new legislation introduced recently allowing a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for repeat waste offenders.
This has already been put in action. Mr Gifford said the EPA won a case in May this year to put a perpetrator behind bars for three years for illegally dumping on eight separate occasions.
Impacts of waste crime are far reaching
Mr Gifford said that illegal dumping and unlawful landfilling are serious environmental crimes that have significant impacts, including economic impacts.
“Illegal dumping can devalue the land and undermine the legitimacy of the resources and the productive recovery of assets.”
Cross border criminal activity no match for waste crime fighters
Mr Gifford said that Australian authorities are united in the fight against waste crime.
“A waste problem is a waste problem in another jurisdiction, so lends itself to collaboration,” he said.
The NSW EPA works with local councils, the police, the EPA in other jurisdictions, and regional illegal dumping (RIP) squads to tackle waste crimes all over the country.
“The issue has galvanised all jurisdictions to come up with strategic and long lasting approaches,” he said.
Why do people commit waste crimes?
The EPA recently conducted research to find out why people commit waste crimes. The surveying found that motivation varies according to the scale and type of the crime, but convenience – or lack thereof – is most often to blame.
“The motivation was often around convenience or the inconvenience of taking waste to a properly lawful landfill. There’s also the motivation of avoiding the costs of transport and the landfilling fee,” Mr Gifford said
“Others just have complete disrespect for the community and environment, and think they can get away with it.”
The NSW EPA’s holistic approach to rebooting the waste industry
Mr Gifford said the EPA has a raft of initiatives and programs underway to tackle all challenges facing the waste industry, including China’s high profile waste import ban.
It is running a grant program to help “address the market failure and stimulate the development of a broader and more efficient [waste and recycling] industry in NSW”, Mr Gifford said.
He said that $802 million in grants will go towards stimulating new investment in waste infrastructure and transforming waste and recycling in NSW through the Waste Less, Recycle More program. First started in 2013, the program was recently extended to 2021 and allocated an additional $337 million in funding.
He said the government also launched a draft circular economy policy and discussion paper earlier this week, and launched a Container Waste Scheme earlier this year that’s had a “good public response” so far.
Are NSW authorities doing enough to tackle the state’s waste woes?
Not everyone is convinced the government is doing enough to NSW’s tackle waste problems. This week in the Sydney Morning Herald, chief executive officer of Waste Management Association of Australia Gayle Sloan accused NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton of failing to use waste levies to fund new waste management services and infrastructure.
This is one of the reasons NSW remains so heavily dependent on landfill, Ms Sloan said.
Ms Sloan and the president of Australia’s peak waste body, Garth Lamb, are calling for a number of actions from government to reduce the pressures on NSW’s waste industry.
NSW needs a Sustainability Victoria style agency for NSW
This includes diverting waste levy funds into new infrastructure and services, the creation of a Sustainability Victoria equivalent in NSW, and the potential beefing up of the EPA’s powers to “crackdown on illegal operators”.
Earlier this week in The Fifth Estate, managing director of waste management business MRA Consulting Group Mike Ritchie commented on the new container deposit scheme, saying that although it is working well, he welcomed any data to show how effective it is, to justify its expense.