Biffa fined £350k for contaminated China paper shipment

Waste being thrown into Biffa truckImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Biffa is the second largest recycling company in the UK

Waste management giant Biffa has been fined £350,000 for trying to send household rubbish to China as paper fit for recycling.

The bales being shipped from Felixstowe port in Suffolk contained nappies, wet wipes and condoms, inspectors found.

Biffa Waste Services was convicted in June of two counts of breaching waste transportation laws in 2015 following a trial at Wood Green Crown Court.

It must pay costs of £240,000 and a £9,912 confiscation order.

After the hearing, the company said it would seek to appeal against the verdict.

Image copyright
Environment Agency

Image caption

Women’s underwear was among the items bound for China as waste paper for recycling, said the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency said inspectors searched seven 25-tonne shipping containers and found items categorised as waste paper included sanitary towels, nappies, wet wipes, underwear and bags of dog excrement.

Biffa had claimed 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).

A three-week trial heard Biffa, which has its head office in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, was shipping a total of 10,855 tonnes worth £640,000 to the South China Sea coast.

However, the Environment Agency stopped any of the seven containers from leaving Felixstowe.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The Port of Felixstowe is the UK’s biggest container port

Prosecutor Sailesh Mehta said Biffa claimed its processes were “as good as it gets” when ideas such as employing more pickers or slowing conveyor belts were suggested.

The company said exports were checked by Chinese authorities, who had never complained, and clients could generate significant quantities of paper from the bales.

However, Judge Simon Auerbach said: “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.”

Richard Banwell, for Biffa, said its business model of exporting waste was vital to helping the government meet its recovery and recycling targets.