In the fourth and final part our this series on waste awareness, I’ll briefly cover the legal, health & safety and environmental aspects of waste. If you’ve been following this series you’ll already have read up on the definition of waste (Part 1 – What is Waste?), the waste hierarchy (Part 2 – Waste Minimisation) and waste management (Part 3), so I’m hoping that this last post in the series will complete an elementary understanding of waste in the UK.
Safety & Environmental Aspects
There’s a raft of Health & Safety legislation which imposes requirements on employers and employees to safeguard their health and safety in the workplace. The three major topics to be considered from a waste perspective, are the storage, handling and dispatch of waste.
In most circumstances, mechanical means should be used to transport heavy waste materials and care should be taken when lifting waste materials into skips or containers. If there is any danger of cuts or contamination, gloves should be worn to carry waste materials. Where heavy materials are being carried by employees, an appropriate risk assessment should have been carried out coupled with the required training to perform the task.
When dealing with chemical waste, the safety requirements will often be detailed in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH sheets or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and a number of safety issues should be considered when storing waste such as personal protective equipment, segregation of incompatible waste, chemicals, bunding of liquid waste containers or tanks and skips should be correctly loaded so that they don’t become overweight or allow the waste to stick out.
The nature of the waste dictates that environmental aspects such as litter, odour, vermin, dust, vapours and spillages or leaks should be considered when storing waste. To minimise the potential impacts of storage of waste, thought needs to be given to the types of waste and the best form of containment for those wastes.
Everyone has a legal responsibility to ensure that all waste is dealt with properly and that it’s ultimately disposed of in the right place. The purpose of UK waste law is to control the keeping, transport, treatment, deposit and disposal of waste and covers all sections of waste management, including:
- Storage of waste at producers premises
- Registering waste carriers and brokers
- Licensing/permitting of waste treatment and disposal facilities
- Monitoring and control of waste
- Keeping appropriate records
- Specific control of hazardous waste
- Obligations for waste recycling or recovery
Waste legislation also specifies the obligations on Waste Collection Authorities (local councils) to collect waste and consider recycling.
Duty of Care
The most fundamental part of UK waste law is duty of care. The purpose of the duty of care is to make sure that anyone who imports, produces, carries, keeps, treats or disposes of waste or acts as a broker, takes all reasonable measures to ensure that they and others they might hand the waste to, manage the waste according to the law and prevent its escape. It also requires that appropriate records are kept by anyone who handles waste at any stage. The duty of care applies to all controlled waste, whether it comes from the household, commerce or industry. The waste producer has a clearly defined responsibility for waste that it produces to ensure that it is disposed of correctly.
Whenever waste is transferred from one party to another, a transfer note must be completed by both parties. Waste must be accurately described including a six digit European Waste Catalogue code. The written waste description provided must be adequate to allow the person receiving the waste to comply with their own legal obligations including duty of care and others such as health & safety. Regulations also require that all those who carry controlled waste must be registered with the relevant agency.
The waste producer also has a responsibility to ensure that their waste is being transferred to a registered waste carrier or, if they transfer it themselves, to a suitable licensed disposal facility. The waste producer should carry out regular checks on their waste contractors to ensure that they remain registered to carry waste.
The main Government agencies in the UK concerned with the enforcement if waste legislation are the Environment Agency (England & Wales), Scottish Environment Protection Agency and The Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland).
Hazardous Waste & Packaging Waste
Hazardous Waste Regulations ensure that wastes are dealt with carefully and safely. The classification of hazardous waste can be quite complex and depends on the type of waste and the waste process from which it derives. When hazardous waste is transferred to a carrier, both the producer and the carrier must check and sign the consignment note having regard t their duty of care, at any stage, to ensure that the waste is properly packaged and labelled to comply with relevant transport regulations. For any hazardous waste that is sent to landfill, and additional Waste Acceptance Criteria is required by the Landfill Directive and further information on this should be obtained from a specialist waste manager or waste management company.
The Packaging Waste Directive 1994 (adopted into UK legislation by the Packaging Waste Regulations 1997) places obligations on certain businesses to recover and recycle specified tonnages of packaging waste each year. Regulation in 2005 required business to register with the relevant agency or via a compliance scheme, with new targets having been set for 2008, 2010 and 2012. The regulations apply to any organisation with a turnover of over £2m p/a and producing or using more than 50 tonnes p/a of packaging. If it qualifies, the organisation will have to account for the recycling and recovery of a specified percentage of the waste it creates.
One element in the waste industry which has caused a lot of controversy recently is landfill tax. The object of this tax is to make landfill increasingly more expensive and to encourage waste producers to consider alternative options for their waste before sending it to landfill. There are two rates of landfill tax depending on whether it’s active waste (most kinds of household, commercial or industrial waste) at £64 per tonne or inactive waste (such as rocks or soil) at £2.50 per tonne. The cost of landfill tax is on the increase annually and can be a big cost to business, so the incentive for finding alternative options for waste that businesses produce is significant.
As with all law, there are also penalties for any breaches. Cases can be tried in the Magistrates or Crown Courts which can impose high penalties such as fines (up to £50,000 in the Magistrates and unlimited in the Crown Court) and/or imprisonment (up to 12 months in the Magistrates and 5 years in the Crown Court) so it pays to follow the letter of the law precisely to avoid being penalised.