Müller UK & Ireland has donated a substantial sum to a British wildlife charity over ammonia discharge into a nearby river.
The company, which is the UK’s largest yogurt manufacturer, paid the Shropshire Wildlife Trust £100,000/$124,323 as part of an enforcement undertaking (EU) offer accepted by the UK Environment Agency.
An EU is a legally-binding agreement proposed by a business when the Agency has reasonable grounds to suspect that an environmental offence had occurred. It allows polluters to address the harm caused in a constructive way and to avoid reputational damage. EUs can be offered for offences including polluting rivers, breaching permit conditions designed to protect communities, or failing to register and comply with recycling/recovery obligations. The Environment Agency then considers if the actions offered by the offender are acceptable.
Sarah Dennis, a senior specialist for the agency, explained: "The Environment Agency is increasingly using this method of enforcement for suitable cases to restore the environment, improve practices of the offending company, and avoid longer criminal court cases. However, we will prosecute in appropriate cases."
In addition to the payment to the wildlife trust, Müller has also covered the Agency’s administration, investigation and legal costs.
How the incident happened
The incident took place when an inlet screen was bypassed during maintenance works at Müller’s Market Drayton dairy plant. Large pieces of fruit then passed into the wastewater plant, leading to high levels of ammonia in the treated effluent discharged into the River Tern. The discharge contained excess levels of ammonia for a period of 15 days in January 2018, the Environment Agency stated.
Müller said it has since complied with the regulations and has invested £2m in improvements to environmental working practices.
Falling short of expectations
A spokesperson for Müller UK & Ireland said: “Our business has operated in Market Drayton for more than 30 years, enjoying a good working relationship with the Environment Agency. However we understand this incident in January 2018 fell short of the expectations we set ourselves to be a responsible and sustainable business.
“While there was no evidence of environmental harm caused by this incident, we took it very seriously and carried out a formal internal investigation. Following this investigation, we committed to making a number of significant changes at our Market Drayton site to ensure nothing like this could happen again.
“The business spent more than £2m on improving the resilience of treatment plants, improving control systems on site, and carrying out staff training. There have been no similar incidents since January 2018, and the protection of the environment continues to form an integral part of our business objectives.”
Pete Lambert, head of land and water at Shropshire Wildlife Trust, added: “Müller’s donation will support the land and water team who manage and improve the health of our county’s water by surveying aquatic species, running events and working with different partners to address flooding issues across the county.
“The funds will support the delivery of vital watercourse-protection and water quality enhancement projects using nature-based solutions including fencing and tertiary water-treatment along a small tributary of the River Tern in north Shropshire.”