Every industry has the potential for rogue traders. Where there is money to be made, criminals will flock. With this in mind, how do you know which waste management companies to trust?
One of the biggest risks of using a rogue waste management or shredding company is fly-tipping. This is where waste is illegally dumped in places it shouldn’t be. The main driver for rogue waste management companies to fly-tip is to avoid landfill taxes and other costs associated with waste disposal. Others may fly-tip simply due to a lack of environmental awareness. Whatever the reason for fly-tipping, it could put your confidential information and reputation at risk.
What are the risks associated with fly-tipping?
From 2021-2022, local authorities in England dealt with 1.09 million fly-tipping incidents. The volume of waste fly-tipped in 32% (341,000) of these incidents was equivalent to a small van load. Around 4% (37,000) of incidents were equivalent to a tipper lorry load or larger, and this 4% alone cost local authorities in England £10.7m to clear. The total clearance cost for all incidents is unknown. However, it’s safe to say that fly-tipping costs taxpayers tens of millions each year. Not only does it cost taxpayers millions, but it also poses a huge data risk for both individuals and businesses.
Having any of your commercial or household waste fly-tipped is, at best, inconvenient, unpleasant and potentially harmful to your reputation. If the fly-tipped waste contains confidential information, this could spell disaster.
Businesses have a legal duty of care when it comes to any form of business waste. This includes general waste, dry mixed recycling, hazardous waste, confidential waste, and much more. If your business waste ends up fly-tipped and you can’t prove you took reasonable steps to prevent it, you could face an unlimited fine or even a custodial sentence.
If your waste contained anything confidential, you have an even bigger problem on your hands. You’d then be facing the stress of a data breach. If you didn’t take adequate measures to protect personal or sensitive data, such as HR files or customer information, you could end up in hot water with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This could result in fines, reputational damage and financial damage. It could even put your customers, suppliers and staff at risk of fraud.
Like businesses, all individuals have a legal obligation to dispose of household waste in the proper ways. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your waste. If you dump it illegally or arrange for a company with inadequate credentials to dispose of it, the buck stops with you. This may seem unfair, especially if you were duped into handing over your hard-earned cash to a company you thought to be trustworthy. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of rogue traders and to know what credentials to look for.
If you are looking for a company to destroy your confidential documents, avoiding the risk of fly-tipping simply isn’t enough. Your confidential materials, even when no longer needed, could be used to commit fraud if in the wrong hands. Many people don’t even realise fraud has occurred until they see a huge dip in their credit scores. So, it’s vital to take measures to protect yourself from that risk with any confidential materials you destroy. We’d recommend using a fully accredited professional shredding service. In another of our blogs, we detail the things to look out for when seeking such a company.
How can you protect yourself from fly-tippers and rogue traders?
Ask to see a Waste Carriers Licence
You can tell if a company is operating legally by asking to see its Waste Carriers Licence. This doesn’t only apply to companies specialising in waste management. It applies to any business that transports, buys, sells, brokers or disposes of waste. They must have a valid Waste Carriers Licence. A valid licence tells you that the company is aware of its legal responsibilities when it comes to waste. You can also search for registered waste carriers on the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs website.
Ask for a Waste Transfer Note
On every occasion you hand over your waste, your waste management company should issue you with a Waste Transfer Note. This could be a paper copy or a digital copy. If they make an excuse or refuse to issue you one, do not hand over your waste. Your Waste Transfer Note provides the proof you need to demonstrate you have taken adequate measures to ensure your waste is being handled by a professional company. Without a Waste Transfer Note, a rogue trader could easily claim they never took the waste and that you had fly-tipped it yourself! You should keep a copy of your Waste Transfer Notes for two years.
Ask to see other accreditations
With confidential waste or waste containing any personal data, you need to use a fully accredited confidential waste shredding service. You need a specialist service for this as confidential materials need to be handled with extra levels of security. The British standard for shredding services in the UK is a standard called BS EN 15713. The BS EN 15713 Code of Practice covers everything from company facilities, destruction site security, destruction vehicle security, staff security screening and so much more. A reputable shredding company will receive regular audits on conforming to the BS EN 15713 code of practice and will operate with the environment in mind. As an example, at Shred Station, our ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 accreditations both incorporate BS EN 15713 as part of the audit process.
Another thing to look out for is professional memberships. Professional memberships generally indicate that a company has a good reputation and standing within its industry. We are members of the British Security Industry Association, where our Commercial Director chairs the Information Destruction section. We are also members of the United Kingdom Security Shredding Association, for which members must meet the highest requirements to join.
Five warning signs that your waste management company isn’t reputable.
As well as the above, there are other warning signs that a company you’re using to dispose of your materials may not have your best interests at heart.
1) You can’t find any trace of the company online.
If you can’t find any trace of a company online, this could indicate that the company isn’t genuine. When it comes to trusting a company with your confidential materials, it is a red flag if you can’t find a secure website, social channels, review platforms, and other forms of digital footprint. Chances are the company isn’t reputable. Reviews in particular are a great way to check whether companies are delivering on what they promise, and a reputable company will welcome reviews across different platforms.
Bear in mind, for non-confidential waste, not having a website on its own isn’t always a red flag. As an example, while it isn’t their main business focus, carpenters or gardeners could be tasked with disposing of building or garden waste. They could well be registered waste handlers and trustworthy individuals. They may simply just get enough work through word of mouth and positive recommendations that they do not need a website to advertise their services.
2) They don’t have a registered business address.
If your waste management company is a limited company or a limited liability partnership, it should be registered with Companies House. You can search for companies and their registered addresses on the Companies House website.
Please note, sole traders do not have to be registered at Companies House, so this also isn’t always a red flag.
3) Their offering seems too good to be true.
This is probably the most obvious warning sign when using a company to dispose of your waste. A lot of rogue traders will operate on social media platforms and online forums. As an example of what to look out for, let’s say you made a post in a social media group asking about recommendations for house clearances. Immediately a gentleman with a new profile offers you the deal of a lifetime – an entire house clearance for £75. Nobody in the group recommended him, he just took it upon himself to message. While this may seem like a fantastic deal, to facilitate an entire house clearance for £75 would be costing him money if he disposed of the waste legally. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
When it comes to confidential materials, our advice is to use a reputable shredding company with the correct credentials – not somebody who made you a quick offer online.
4) Their “staff” turn up not in uniform, with no identification, and are travelling in an unmarked van.
A reputable waste management company, or any company that disposes of waste, should want all of their employees to be recognisable and appear professional. By this, we don’t mean dressing in a suit and tie, which would be unreasonable attire for collecting waste materials. What we mean is someone in branded uniform, with a photographic ID to show you where they work and what their name is. This is especially important for confidential waste as carrying photo identification is a requirement of the BS EN 15713 Code of Practice.
5) They only accept cash in hand.
For some businesses, it’s natural to only accept cash. A few examples of cash-only businesses could be launderettes, arcades, food trucks, street food vendors, car washes and babysitters. Cash-only can make sense for sellers dealing in low-cost items or services because it avoids the need for vendors to absorb card transaction fees. For higher-value goods or services, only accepting cash could be a warning sign, especially if vendors are claiming they can’t give you a receipt of payment.
If you are paying someone to dispose of your waste, it would be very difficult to prove any transfer of waste occurred without evidence that any money has changed hands. Without any receipts, waste transfer notes or other documentation, it would be near enough impossible for you to prove any wrongdoings with your waste were not done by your own hands. This could mean you feel the legal repercussions of someone else’s unethical working practices which, while not ideal, is usually enough of a deterrent to stop using waste disposal services without first ensuring they are a reputable waste carrier.
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