Offences & Penalties

The management of waste is regulated by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA), other relevant UK laws and the European Directives. These laws determine the management of waste and its disposal and establishes offences, punishable by a fine or a prison term.

EPA 1990: offences Under S.33 of the EPA 1990 (amended in 1995), it is an offence to: Deposit or knowingly cause or knowingly permit to be deposited (controlled) waste in or on land unless in accordance with the terms of a waste management licence Treat, keep or dispose of controlled waste in or on land or by means of any mobile plant unless in accordance with the terms of a waste management licence. Treat, keep or dispose of controlled waste that could cause environmental pollution or harm human health. (This offence applies even in situations where a waste management licence is not required.) If convicted in the Magistrates court, the maximum punishment for these offences is 12 months imprisonment and /or a fine of £50,000. In the Crown court, it could run to a 5 year jail term or an unlimited fine.It is an offence to dispose of waste that can harm the environment or human health. The legislation is targeted at fly-tipping and other illegal waste transfer and allows Local Authorities to prosecute offenders with a minimum fixed penalty notice or indict to receive a prison sentence and/ or a fine. Fixed penalty notices can be issued or a person or a business can be prosecuted for an offence, with a penalty of imprisonment and/or a fine. Instead of prosecuting, regulators can deal with the problem through informal discussions with the polluter, perhaps issuing a warning or a formal caution.

An alternative approach is for regulators to issue notices requiring a person to deal with a pollution problem.

Civil Sanctions There are various ways in which pollution can be tackled by the regulators without going to court. The first possibility is a penalty notice. The penalty can be recovered in court as a debt. The penalty notice may take two forms: Fixed monetary penalty notices: fines of a fixed amount in respect of pollution offences. Variable monetary penalty notices: fines where the regulator determines the amount In addition, the regulator may serve notices demanding that an industrial operator take steps to curb pollution. If the notice is not followed then the regulator will then prosecute. The notices include:

  1. Compliance notices: requiring steps within a stated period to ensure that an offence does not continue or happen again
  2. Restoration notices: requiring specified steps within a stated period to secure that things are restored, as far as this is possible, to the situation before pollution took place
  3. Stop notices: which will prevent a person from carrying on an activity set out in the notice until the activity is undertaken properly.


Finally the issue might be resolved by the operator promising to put things right, knowing that failure to do so will mean prosecution in court. Such a promise is described as an undertaking and includes:

  1. Enforcement undertakings: a person who may have committed a pollution offence can give an undertaking to a regulator to take corrective steps;
  2. Third party undertakings: which promise to compensate persons affected by pollution.