Biffa Waste Services Ltd (Biffa) has been fined 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.

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 and strongly contested the case, stating that the materials had been inspected by a Chinese Inspectorate regime prior to being finalised for shipment to establish a purity level of 98.5 per cent. The paper mills to which the waste was destined had been accredited by the EA as being of an equal or higher environmental standard as European paper mills.

It has long been a point of contention for the domestic waste industry that the EA has not issued 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, and so large quantities are exported for recycling.

The EA continues to take the issue of illegal waste shipments seriously, as is demonstrated by the level of fine imposed on Biffa. A single national team focuses on waste shipments and procedure responsibility with increasing resources being given to the issue. The EA and Biffa agreed that Biffa would also pay £9,912 as proceeds of crime.

The EA press release is available here

Biffa has made an application for leave to appeal.