I’ve already helped define what waste is in Part 1 (What is Waste) and Part 2 of the series covered avoiding the production of waste (Waste Minimisation) as part of this series. In the third of my four-part series on waste awareness, I’m going to set out information on the disposal of waste, which is the very last option in the waste hierarchy.
As landfill is a major source of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to global warming), the EU Landfill Directive has set ambitious targets for the reduction of biodegradable municipal waste (See Part 1 – What is Waste) sent to landfill:
- Reducing municipal waste to landfill down to 35% of the 1995 tonnage by 2020;
- banning co-disposal of hazardous waste & non-hazardous waste, and requiring separate landfills for hazardous, non-hazardous and inert waste;
- banning landfill of tyres and certain other wastes;
- banning landfill of liquid wastes, infectious clinical waste and certain types of hazardous waste together;
- increasing standards of landfill.
Meeting these target is a major challenge and the Government has introduced its Waste Strategy for England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have separate strategies) which concentrates on the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste. The Government has placed a number of restrictions on the disposal of waste including financial tools such as Landfill Tax, to disincentivise landfilling and make other ways of dealing with waste more financially attractive.
Waste Disposal Routes
There are a number of routes to disposing of waste and all parties, including the waste producer, have a legal responsibility to receive or dispatch waste in a way that satisfies their duty of care (more on this in Part 4!). The responsibilities of each person in the waste chain is set out below.
Waste Producer – The waste producer decides on which route is chosen to dispose of waste. The most important point for the producer is to know its waste so that important financial, legal or environmental decisions on how to handle the waste can be made. The type of waste and description of waste will dictate how it’s handled & stored to meet safety and environmental obligations.
Segregation of waste may be necessary as different waste has different disposal routes. For segregation to be effective it should be done as close as possible to the point of waste production. Good waste management practice should also ensure that people are accountable for the cost, nature and description of waste .Having made a decision about the segregation of waste, the next step is to decide on the best disposal route by:
- Appointing a registered waste carrier;
- Contracting with a registered waste broker; or
- Delivering waste to a suitably licensed waste facility direct.
Waste Broker – Brokers usually deal with complex hazardous waste or where the producer has a number of sites spread over a wide geographical area. Brokers will contract with other waste specialists to provide a complete waste service of waste collection and disposal. All brokers must be registered with the Environment Agency and clients must check that the broker is indeed properly registered.
Waste Carrier – Waste carriers are specialised contractors with purpose-built vehicles or containers for carrying waste. Whoever is appointed as the waste carrier must be given an adequate description of the waste it will be transporting so that this can be carried safely and transferred onto the next person in the chain.
The waste carrier can only be responsible for the waste described to him by the producer and should check the waste ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ to ensure that it is the waste as described. Therefore, if the waste is wrongly described to the carrier, the producer may be responsible for it, not the carrier. The waste carrier has to keep appropriate documentation about the wast it carries and also needs to be registered with the Environment Agency.
Waste Management Facilities – There are a variety of waste disposal facilities throughout the UK. Because of their specialised knowledge & position in the waste disposal chain, they’re in the best position to identify where something has gone wrong further up the chain (e.g. wrong description, wrong waste) and it’s not uncommon for a waste disposer to reject waste where it has been incorrectly described. Waste disposers have a responsibility, once they’ve accepted waste, to process it only in the manner that is allowed in their licence or permit and to ensure best environmental practice:
- Transfer Stations – They bulk up waste to make subsequent transport more efficient, and also sort and separate materials for recycling (sometimes known as Material Recovery Facilities or MRFs). The bulked residues will then go to landfill, recovery or treatment, in larger containers or vehicles.
- Thermal Treatment Facilities – These facilities subject wastes to some form of heat treatment, converting the waste into another form and recovering energy from the material. Two types of waste normally incinerated are either combustible household, industrial and commercial waste or hazardous waste. Thermal Treatment Facilities have to meet stringent standards for all emissions and require complex equipment to clean the discharges to the environment.
- Treatment Facilities – These operations process the physical or chemical treatment of waste to change its nature so that it’s a useful secondary material or more suitable for landfill. Examples include composting, oil and solvent recovery, refuse derived fuel and solidification.
Landfill – Landfill is the process of placing waste below or above ground to get rid of it and at the same time either restoring land to its previous level or providing an attractively mounded landscape. The Landfill Directive has restricted what waste can go to landfill. Biodegradable and hazardous wastes cannot go to landfill without some sort of pre-processing in a treatment facility.
An essential feature of good waste management practice is waste auditing so that detailed knowledge is gained of the wastes being produced by a business. A waste audit will identify a) types of waste b) quantities of waste and c) points of waste production. Waste audits should be carried out in a systematic way and legal obligations should be considered at each stage.
Carrying out a waste audit should be a combination of both waste data collection and a review of processes. From this information it’s possible to see which activities in a department produce waste and what types of waste, and consideration can also be given to how raw materials, processes or waste handling methods can be changed to reduce or prevent waste.
In the last of this four part series on waste awareness, I’ll be covering safety, environmental and legal aspects of waste. Hopefully, at the end of the series I will have provided you with some useful insight on the importance of managing the waste that your business (or home) produces, the options available to you before having to dispose of waste and how the effective management of waste can have a significant impact on your business’ bottom line.