Vital Earth fined £75,000 for depositing controlled waste

Vital Earth GB Limited has pleaded guilty at Derby Magistrates' Court to depositing controlled waste on land in Derbyshire without an environmental permit between 10 March and 13 April 2011.

The company delivered material directly to two locations in Derbyshire, and caused the onward delivery of waste to a third.

This material was in the form of compost contaminated with mixed waste such as plastics, metals and paper.

The company was fined £75,000, and ordered to pay £13,535.26 in costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge.

The charges were brought under section 33(1)(a) and (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Vital Earth run a composting facility at Ashbourne Industrial Estate, Derbyshire.

In early 2011, Vital Earth supplied a local tenant farmer with compost to be used on  rented land off Dark Lane, Hob Lane and at Grange Farm. 

The farmer was informed by the company that the compost fully complied with the relevant criteria and was not considered to be a waste product.

Following delivery he noticed that the compost contained a high level of plastic contamination including items such as kitchen knives, bottle tops and cigarette lighters.

The ‘Compost Quality Protocol’ states that if quality compost is mixed with other waste materials, the resulting mix will be considered as waste, and will therefore be subject to waste regulatory controls.

Environment Agency officers attended the site in April 2011.

A formal sampling process showed that the compost had an average contaminant level between six and ten times the permitted limit, and should actually have been classified as waste. 

The Environment Agency contacted Vital Earth to inform them of the sample results and to require removal of the material.

By May 2011 the company began to remove some waste from the farmer’s land but the material was not fully cleared until July 2011.
The company were interviewed under caution on 9 August 2011 and acknowledged that the field was in a poor condition and that their processes needed to be improved.

They also stated they had done everything they could to minimise the environmental impact.

In mitigation, the court was told that Vital Earth has no previous convictions for waste offences and that they pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. 

The company also took steps to rectify the situation such as implementing additional training for staff, updating procedures for the storage of material, and removing the waste from the farmer’s fields.

Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer in charge of the investigation said: "This is a serious environmental crime. By depositing controlled waste Vital Earth have fallen significantly short of their environmental duties.  We will not hesitate to prosecute in such cases."

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