Waste management giant Biffa has been fined £350,000 for trying to ship household rubbish to China labelled as waste paper fit for recycling.
Items found in the bales included sanitary towels, six million soiled nappies, wet wipes and condoms – with the shipping containers reeking of vomit.
A search of seven 25-tonne shipping containers bound for China at Felixstowe port in Suffolk found waste items including plastic containers, plastic bags, scrap metal and electrical debris.
Waste management giant Biffa has been fined £350,000 for trying to ship household rubbish to China labelled as waste paper fit for recycling (file photo)
Other items found during the search included laminate flooring, coat hangers, pet food containers, latex gloves and pieces of china.
Environment Agency inspectors even found women’s underwear, bags of dog excrement and a 12-inch record by 90s band Deee-Lite.
Biffa Waste Services Ltd – the second largest recycling company in the UK – claimed that the bales contained 98.5% waste paper, which can be legally transported to China.
Shipping heavily contaminated waste to the country has been illegal since 2006 because it is not part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Biffa was convicted of two counts of breaching waste transportation laws between May and June 2015 following a three-week trial at Wood Green Crown Court in June this year.
Jurors heard Biffa – which saw revenue of £683.6 million last year – used two brokers to manage the deal to send the waste to sites in Shenzhen and Guang Dong on the South China Sea Coast.
One of the brokers arranged a shipment of 5,863 tonnes of waste paper between Biffa worth £350,000, while the second arranged the sale of 4,992 tonnes of waste paper worth £290,000.
However, the Environment Agency prevented any of the seven containers from leaving Felixstowe.
The company claimed its exports were regularly inspected by the Chinese authorities who had never made complaints, and that its clients were capable of generating significant quantities of paper from the bales it supplied.
Handing Biffa a £350,000 fine on Friday, Judge Simon Auerbach said: ‘The principle of this environmental regulation is to the prevent export of our waste processing and disposing of the problem to other parts of the world.
‘Exporting to non-OECD countries is the very essence of the offence and the willingness of the Chinese authorities to accept it and their ability to process it are not, in my judgment, the point.’
Items found in the bales included sanitary towels, six million soiled nappies, wet wipes and condoms – with the shipping containers reeking of vomit (file photo)
Judge Auerbach added that Biffa’s actions were the ‘high end of negligence and lower end of recklessness’.
Biffa was also ordered to pay £240,000 costs to the Environment Agency and a confiscation order of £9,912, which was the total amount it received for the blocked shipment of waste.
Prosecutor Sailesh Mehta said contaminants could even be seen poking out of bales that were not broken open by inspectors.
Mr Mehta said Biffa had dismissed suggestions that its waste sorting process could be improved to prevent contaminants ending up in bales of waste paper.
The company had claimed its processes were already ‘as good as it gets’ when ideas such as employing more pickers or slowing conveyor belts were floated.
‘If all [these ideas] are impossible, we suggest it is incumbent on the defendant charged with this important duty to start the whole system afresh,’ he said.
Richard Branwell, for Biffa, highlighted the shortcomings of the UK’s waste management system as a whole, pointing out that of all the eight million tonnes of fibre recovered each year, just 3.3 million tonnes can be recycled domestically.
He said that Biffa’s business model of exporting waste was vital to helping the Government meet its recovery and recycling targets.
‘The paper export market has been under financial strain for some time and in recent years this aspect of the company’s business has been difficult,’ he said.
‘But [Biffa] has remained in the game in the belief that it is an important part of the UK’s recovery market and at some stage the recycled material will become viable from an economic perspective.’
Representatives from the company – which is headquartered in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire – were present in court for the sentencing hearing.