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Waste giants Biffa guilty of export offences after Felixstowe seizures

PUBLISHED: 18:13 24 June 2019 | UPDATED: 18:13 24 June 2019

Biffa denied breaching waste export laws but was found guilty after a three week trial Picture: BIFFA

Biffa denied breaching waste export laws but was found guilty after a three week trial Picture: BIFFA

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One of the UK's largest waste management companies has been convicted after contaminated cargo was seized at Port of Felixstowe.

Port of Felixstowe Picture: BARRIE BROOKSPort of Felixstowe Picture: BARRIE BROOKS

One of the UK's largest waste management companies has been convicted of breaking overseas exports law after contaminated cargo was seized at Port of Felixstowe.

The Environment Agency prosecuted Biffa Waste Services Ltd for sending to China 175 tonnes of household waste such as used nappies and food packaging that the company claimed was waste paper.

Investigators at Felixstowe found everything from women's underwear and plastic bottles to metal pipes and even a damaged copy of a 12-inch record by 90s chart-toppers Deee-Lite in seven 25 tonne containers.

They also discovered shoes, plastic bags, an umbrella, socks, hand towels, unused condoms, video tape, toiletries and electric cable.

The export of unsorted household recycling waste from the UK to China has been banned since 2006.

Paper can legally be sent to China but heavily contaminated other waste cannot.

Biffa, of Coronation Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, pleaded not guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of breaching regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

But after a three-week trial, a jury at Wood Green Crown court in London found Biffa guilty of two breaches of the law in May and June 2015.

The jury rejected Biffa's claim that consignments leaving its depot in Edmonton four years ago complied with the law because they comprised of waste paper.

Jurors heard Biffa used two companies, or brokers, to act as intermediaries to manage the deal to send the waste to two delivery sites in Shenzhen and Guang Dong on the South China Sea coast.

The first broker took up a request from a Chinese client in April 2015 to arrange shipment of 5,863 tonnes of mixed waste paper by contacting Biffa.

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A price of around £350,000 was agreed for the export, due to take place the following month.

At the same time, Biffa agreed with a second broker to ship 4,992 tonnes of mixed paper in a contract worth almost £290,000.

The Environment Agency prevented any of the seven containers from leaving Felixstowe.

Sarah Mills, an enforcement manager whose team investigated the breaches for the Environment Agency, said: "Our officers found anything and everything in Biffa's containers at Felixstowe.

"They were marked as waste paper, but contained a totally unacceptable level of contamination with other waste.

"The regulations around shipment of waste were brought in to stop the West merely passing the problem to other countries.

"It was commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s for developed nations to send vast amounts of waste abroad.

"The waste contained harmful material likely to have been discarded by the receiving country, at great risk and cost to the environment and people. "The guilty verdicts justify our decision to prosecute Biffa."

Biffa, of Coronation Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, pleaded not guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of breaching regulation 23 of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007.

It is an offence under the regulations to breach article 36 of the European Waste Shipments Regulation 1013/2006, which bans the export of waste collected from households to China.

Judge Simon Auerbach deferred sentencing until September 27.

The court was told the Environment Agency and Biffa had agreed a figure of £9,912 to be paid for proceeds of crime.

Biffa has been approached for comment.

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