Repeat waste crime offender Joe Benson was today sentenced to 16 months in prison at Snaresbrook Crown Court for illegally exporting 46 tonnes of hazardous electrical waste to Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and the Congo. Broken cathode ray tube televisions and ozone depleting fridge freezers were found in four containers intercepted at ports by Environment Agency investigators between September 2012 and April 2013.
This is the first time a defendant has been sentenced to a custodial sentence for illegally exporting waste.
Mr Benson was previously convicted of exporting similar hazardous electrical waste to Nigeria in 2011 during one of the Environment Agency’s biggest export cases, Operation Boron. However he continued to illegally export televisions and freezers to West Africa while appealing, unsuccessfully, against his previous convictions.
It is thought that Benson, 54, of Broad Street, Loughton, Essex, stood to make around £32,000 from the export of the intercepted containers. He collected the electrical waste from civic amenity sites in London and the Home Counties and took it to his licensed waste site in Walthamstow where it should have been tested for functionality and safety before being exported. He made money by collecting the waste and selling it on at about £8,000 a container as well as avoiding the costs incurred in dealing with the waste safely.
Andrew Higham, who leads the Environment Agency’s National Environmental Crime Team, said:
These are not victimless crimes. The rules governing the exportation of waste electrical equipment are in place for good reason, to protect human life and the environment.
It is illegal to send hazardous waste to these countries. Mr Benson has seen fit to flaunt the rules for his own personal benefit. The Environment Agency has a specialist crime unit to track and prosecute criminals who export waste illegally.
Director of regulated industry Harvey Bradshaw said:
This sentence is a landmark ruling because it’s the first time anyone has been sent to prison for illegal waste exports as a result of our investigations.
We take a zero tolerance approach to those commit waste crime, and cracking down on illegal waste exports will continue to be a priority for the Environment Agency. We urge anyone in the waste industry to help us protect their legitimate business and report any suspicious activity to Crimestoppers anonymously.
Working electronics can be exported for resale and there is a legitimate market for used goods. But the law is clear – it is always illegal to send hazardous electronic waste from the UK to developing countries where it could be dumped and burnt to extract precious metals, posing serious risks to people’s health and damage to the environment. They can contain hazardous materials such as lead, phosphors and ozone depleting substances.
Environment Agency prosecutors showed that Mr Benson’s containers gave the impression that relevant guidelines were being met. Independent testing showed this was not the case and that the exports were illegal. Mr Benson entered a guilty plea at an earlier hearing.
While sentencing Judge Dawson said:
In my view this is a serious offence that you have committed before. The public and the world need protecting from this sort of offence.