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Firm faces fine as tons of mixed waste wrongly sent from Scotland to China

Hundreds of tons of mixed waste was intercepted by environment officers after being wrongly sent from Scotland to China.

A major recycling firm is now facing an unlimited fine over the contamination, which saw soiled nappies and household rubbish from Scottish homes mixed in with paper which should have been recycled.

Saica Natur, which has a processing plant at Croy in Lanarkshire, last week admitted breaching international waste shipment regulations in court.

They sent 1275 tons of waste in 51 containers that were being shipped to China – more than 13,000 miles away – in a deal worth £22,000 to the company.

But they were halted – most mid-transit – by officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency after concerns were raised about the firm’s waste.

A waste sorting centre in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province of China

When the shipments were stopped, investigators spent six months picking through huge bales of waste paper and found them mixed up with items including nappies, electronics, food, clothes and toys.

The paper should have been recycled and converted into cardboard.

Environmental crime prosecutor Joe Stewart told Airdrie Sheriff Court paper waste was usually sent from Croy to the firm’s recycling facility in Manchester but a fire there in 2016 greatly reduced capacity.

Stewart stated: “SEPA officers visited the Croy depot and had concerns about the quality of paper waste. It was established that 48 containers were in transit to China, including 29 that had reached Belgium. Another three were at Grangemouth port.

“All of these containers were intercepted.

“Officers picked through bales of waste paper and found soiled nappies, food waste, electrical equipment, clothing and toys. While a small amount of contamination is to be expected, SEPA officers said the level here went far beyond what could be acceptable.”

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After raising concerns during a routine inspection at the Croy depot, SEPA ordered the firm to halt all exports. All 51 containers were returned for sample testing, which showed a contamination level of 18 to 19 per cent.

Saica Natur was charged with a breach of regulations because firms are not allowed to export mixed waste to China.

The firm, which has no previous convictions, had a UK turnover of £50million in 2020 and made a profit of £4million.

Its lawyer claimed there had been no attempt to cover up the true nature of the waste and stressed it was en route to “another facility” and wouldn’t have been dumped.

The lawyer added: “The company has taken this matter very seriously. Its standards slipped in this case.”

The company is facing an unlimited fine when it is sentenced next month.

North Lanarkshire Council, which has a contract with Saica Natur, expressed concern. A spokesman said: “We will discuss the outcome of this case with the company.”

Saica Natur said it was unable to comment until the sentencing was finalised.

SEPA also said it couldn’t comment until the end of the case.

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