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Illegal export of electrical waste leads to jail sentence

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For the first time, a man has been jailed for illegally exporting electrical waste to Africa.

Joe Benson, a waste dealer from Essex, was sentenced to 16 months in prison by Snaresbrook Crown Court. He pleaded guilty to exporting 46 tonnes of hazardous waste to Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The waste included broken cathode ray tube televisions and fridge freezers containing ozone depleting gases. These were found by Environment Agency investigators in four containers which were intercepted at UK ports before export.

There have been previous cases where defendants have faced imprisonment for serious waste crime - a recent report revealed that the number of people receiving prison sentences for serous waste offences has risen by nearly 300% since 2010. This is, however, the first time someone has been imprisoned for the illegal export of waste.

Mr Benson had previously been convicted of exporting hazardous waste to Nigeria in 2011. He then continued to illegally export waste electrical equipment to Africa whilst appealing, unsuccessfully, against his previous conviction. The Environment Agency calculated that Mr Benson would have made around £32,000 profit from the illegal export of the waste found in the intercepted containers and he also avoided the costs incurred in making the necessary safety checks.

There are complex rules on the export of waste. Under the terms of the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 electronic goods can be exported for resale, but only where there is a legitimate market for used goods, and they must have been thoroughly tested to ensure they are working and safe. It is illegal to export unusable electronic waste from the UK to developing countries, where it could be dumped or burnt to extract precious metals, posing serious risks to people's health and the environment.

New Sentencing Guidelines for Environmental Offences are being introduced on 1 July 2014, but recent cases indicate courts are already using these guidelines. This may well explain why there have been a number of cases where courts have imposed substantial penalties over the last month or so. The Guidelines are likely to result in harsher sentences for those found guilty of committing environmental crimes such as waste offences or water pollution.

Not all cases of environmental crime involve deliberate offending. There are a wide range of environmental offences which are often very technical, and in many cases the legislation is "strict liability" which means offences can be committed unintentionally by businesses. More than ever before, there is an increased need for businesses to ensure their operations comply with all relevant environmental legislation.