QUESTIONS have been raised about the suitability of a waste service company to run Somerset's recycling sites after it emerged it was recently hit with a record fine for breaching export law.

Biffa is to run the county's 16 recycling sites after taking them on from Viridor in a £126million deal.

It will operate the sites for Somerset Waste Partnership and has also acquired Viridor's anaerobic digestion plant near Bridgwater, which transforms 22,500 tonnes of Somerset's food waste into electricity, and the composting sites that turn almost 40,000 tonnes of the county's garden waste into the Revive soil conditioner.

SWP boss Mickey Green says "due diligence" checks will be carried out and people will not notice any change apart from new signage.

But the County Gazette has discovered that Biffa Waste Services was last month fined £1.5million for what a judge called "reckless, bordering on deliberate" breaches of export law.

It was the second time Biffa had been the subject of legal action in as many years.

Judge Shane Collery QC told Wood Green Crown Court Biffa had shown no contrition and called the company’s previous comments about being picked on by the Environment Agency and no public interest served in being prosecuted a second time “aggravating and unattractive.”

Biffa’s latest breaches of export law uncovered by the Environment Agency involved rolling contracts to send vast amounts of waste to India and Indonesia.

Material exported illegally included 50,000 tins; 40,000 plastic bags; 25,000 items of clothing; 3,000 nappies – and even a frying pan, condoms and a souvenir New York T-shirt. Investigators inspecting the waste recorded “a strong putrid” smell and an “acidic aroma.”

Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency, said: "Biffa shipped banned materials to developing countries, without having systems in place to prevent the offences.

"As the two convictions in 2019 and this year show, the Environment Agency will pursue those who blight the lives of overseas communities through illegal exports.

"This guilty verdict underlines that anyone producing or handling waste must only export material legally and safely for recycling."

The jury at Wood Green Crown Court found Biffa guilty of four offences of exporting poorly-sorted household waste from its recycling facility at Edmonton, North London, to Asia in 2018 and 2019. Investigators held 16 25-tonne containers at Southampton, but 26 more had already left the port.

The jury heard of Biffa’s rolling monthly contracts worth a combined £39,500 to move the household waste to India or Indonesia.

In addition to the £1.5million fine, Biffa was ordered to pay costs of £153,827.99, and a proceeds of crime order of £38,388.

In another case, in September 2019, Biffa was fined £350,000, with costs of £240,000 and a proceeds of crime order of £9,912, for sending contaminated household waste, described as waste paper, to China between May and June 2015.

The County Gazette has contacted Biffa and SWP for a comment.

READ MORE: Biffa takes on Somerset's recycling sites.