500  Legal aspects of waste

Waste management legislation is set out primarily in Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1990 and the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994.

www.netregs.environment-agency.gov.uk  or  www.netregs.gov.uk/netregs/legislation 
Aimed at SME's this site hosted by the Environment Agency contains information about legislation on waste and pollution, environmental compliance, and practical advice for 100 sectors.

What is waste?
Waste is defined as any substance or object, which the producer or the person in possession of it discards or intends or is required to discard [Council Directive 75.442 EEC as amended by Directives 91/156/EEC and 91/69/EEC] In this definition, the "producer" is anyone whose activities produce waste or who carries out reprocessing, mixing or other operations resulting in a change in its nature or composition.

Whilst deciding whether something is waste or not, in practical terms, is often a simple matter, in some cases it can be very difficult to decide. We can do no better then to quote from the guidance given in March 96 by the, then, Department of the Environment in its booklet on the Duty of Care, written for business:

"Whether or not a substance is waste must be determined on the facts of the case and interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts. The Department of the Environment has provided guidance on the interpretation of the definition of waste in circular 11/94. In the Department’s view the purpose of the Framework Directive is to treat as waste and accordingly to supervise the collection, transport, storage, recovery and disposal of, those substances or objects which fall out of the commercial cycle or out of the chain of utility. The departments have suggested that the key question to ask is : Has the substance or object been discarded so that it is no longer the part of the normal commercial cycle or chain of utility? If the answer is no, there is a reasonable indication that the substance or object is not waste. A distinction must be drawn between the normal commercial cycle and that commercial cycle that exists for the purpose of collecting, transporting, storing, recovering and disposing of waste. It is also essential to bear in mind that a substance or object does not cease to be waste as soon as it is transferred for collection, transport, storage, recovery or disposal. A substance or object which at the point of its original production should be regarded as waste until it is recovered or disposed of."

Controlled waste
This is any household, commercial or industrial waste such as waste from a house, caravan, shop, office, service centre, factory, building site or any other business premises.

The Duty of Care
The Environmental Protection Act places a duty on all producers and handlers of waste to ‘take reasonable measures to prevent the unauthorised deposit, treatment or disposal of waste.’ Failure to comply with the duty of care is an offence.

All businesses are advised to read Waste Management, the Duty of Care: a Code of Practice, which is available from the Stationery Office (0207 873 9090) for 7.50. The Duty implies four key practices:

  1. Each business should know what waste and how much waste it generates.
  2. Each business should ensure that its waste carriers are Registered or Exempt under the Control of Pollution Amendment Act. This means that the company employing the drivers must be a Registered Waste Carrier or exempt from registration. All charities and local authority refuse teams are exempt from registration. Ring the Environment Agency for details if you want to find out if a particular company is registered.
  3. Each business must use waste transfer notes, describing the waste and the way it is packed and contained, and keep those on file for at least 2 years, at the place of production. These can be issued at the time (usually Registered Carriers have stocks, or you can make up your own - see the Code of Practice) or there can be an annual note where the same company collects wastes of the same type from the same premises throughout the year. Different notes must be prepared where the wastes are ‘special wastes.’ In such cases see Section 60 on Difficult wastes for details of how to get advice on the Special Waste Regulations 1996.

  4. Each business must satisfy itself that its waste is dealt with properly and legally. It is not enough to say that you passed waste to a cowboy and that he tipped it - if you had reasonable cause to be suspicious of him, the law says you are under a duty to take care your waste is dealt with properly and you may commit an offence if it is unlawfully tipped or causes pollution.

Charging for collection of wastes
Note that householders get most of their wastes collected free (and pay via Council Tax). Business and industry must pay for their wastes to be taken away, or to deposit them at transfer stations. Local authorities can charge for taking away wastes from certain types of ‘household’ - for example, from holiday camps, residential hostels, boarding schools, nurses’ homes and royal palaces. They can also charge for garden wastes, bulky wastes, asbestos and taking away dead domestic pets.

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997
These regulations are part of an on-going EU policy to place obligations on producers to reduce and recycle wastes. Increasingly, new laws from Europe are likely to require producers to minimise the environmental effects of their products.

The Regulations are aimed at reducing the amount of packaging waste going to landfill. The 1997 Directive requires the UK to recover 50 per cent of packaging waste by 2001 (at least half of this by recycling) and to recycle at least 8 per cent of particular materials, namely metals, plastics, glass and paper. Britain has adopted a shared approach, with all parts of industry forming part of the ‘packaging chain’ having obligations under the regulations.

Only the largest companies are required to take action at the moment - that is, companies with a turnover of more than 5 million and which handled more than 50 tonnes of packaging or packaging materials in the previous year. (The turnover threshold will reduce to 1 million from 2000). These companies must be involved in at least one of the following activities: manufacturing raw materials used for packaging, converting raw materials into packaging, packing or filling packaging, selling packaging or packaged products to the final user or consumer, or importing packaging or packaged products. Each one of these activities incurs an obligation under the Regulations, and the companies must register with the Environment Agency, either directly (for which the fee is 750) or via a compliance scheme ( for which charges vary) and send data to the Agency on the tonnages of packaging they used in the previous calendar year. They are also obliged to provide proof (by a Certificate of Compliance) that an appropriate amount of packaging has been recovered or recycled (depending on the tonnage they handled for each activity). There is a voluntary scheme of Packaging Recovery Notes, issued by Accredited Reprocessors, which can be used to prove that materials have been recycled.

Under the Regulations, there are no obligations for packaging materials when they are re-used (i.e. the obligation is only applicable for the first time any packaging material is used) nor are there any obligations for packaging materials which are to be exported; conversely, packaging materials which are imported attract a 100 per cent obligation.

The Regulations are complicated, and companies which may be affected (and this includes some suppliers of packaging companies) should get a copy of the Users Guide from the DETR on 0208 691 9191, as well as a copy of the Regulations from the Stationery Office and leaflets and a registration pack from the Environment Agency’s Producer Responsibility Registration Unit. Queries about the operation of the Regulations should be directed to the local Area Office of the Agency.

Landfill Tax
Since 1996, the operators of licensed landfill sites have been obliged to pay tax on waste entering the site. There are currently two rates. The higher rate of £10 per tonne applies to all wastes except inert wastes, which are charged at £2 per tonne. From May 2000 the £10 rate will increase to £11, and annual increases of £1 will bring the rate to £15 by 2004.

Certain wastes are exempt from the tax: dredging from inland waterways and harbours; unprocessed mine and quarry wastes; dead domestic pets going to pet cemeteries; and waste from the remediation of contaminated land, unless the remediation is carried out under a notice. Soil brought to a site specifically for use as lining or capping, and waste used for site engineering, is exempt from tax.

Landfill site operators obviously pass these costs onto their customers and costs of tipping have risen considerably. The operators have two particular options to reduce their obligations under the tax: they can designate parts of their sites tax free areas, and waste can be sorted for recycling and recycled there without incurring tax. They can also make a voluntary contribution to an environmental body for an approved purpose such as creation of conservation areas near the site, maintaining or restoring historic buildings, education about waste management or the promotion of waste minimisation or recycling. If they do so, up to 90 per cent of the contribution can be claimed as credit against the landfill tax, provided the total amount of credit claimed does not exceed 20 per cent of the landfill tax bill. Thus, if their bill is 100,000, they can claim credit of 20,000. They must pay 22,222 to the local good cause. This scheme is administered by ENTRUST.

The Landfill Tax Helpdesk in Newcastle (local call rates) is on 0645 128484, fax 0646 129595.

The PRRU’s is at the Producer Responsibility Registration Unit, Wah Kwong House, 10-11 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TG. Tel 0208 05 4036 Fax 0208 305 4027

Also see
Landfill sites (170)
Miscellaneous support services (290)
General information (600)
Central government (610)

Environment Agency
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Leading public and regulatory body with 800m budget, over half spent on flood defence.  Formed 1996 by amalgamating the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, the former local authority waste regulation authorities, and several smaller government units.  Aims to provide high quality environmental protection and improvement through prevention, education and rigorous enforcement where necessary.  Divided into regions: Anglian | Midlands | North East | North West | South West | Southern | Thames | Wales.  Contact these via website.  Thames Regional Office: Kings Meadow House, Kings Meadow Road, Reading RG1 8DQ, Tel 01734 535000, Fax 01734 500388.  Waste and recycling facts at  www.environment-agency.gov.uk/yourenv/eff/resources_waste/213982/203620/?lang=_e   Also information on: State of the environment; A better quality of life; A greener business world;  Better waters; Cleaner air for everyone; Climate change; Energy; Sustainable use of natural resources; Healthy soils; Reducing flood risk; Sustainability; Wildlife.   (Updated Feb 2005)

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Fax 01865 483242 
Website www.brookes.ac.uk/eie/law.htm
BMS, Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, OXFORD OX3 0BP

Initiative supported by Oxford Brookes University which promotes recycling and environmentally friendly waste management.  Useful info on website including - definitions of waste; legal obligations; regulations and directives (includes packaging and WEEE); duty of care; storage and disposal; minimising waste; waste calculator - how to reduce waste and increase profit;  energy and water saving;  pollution; how to create an environmental policy and why you should; how to prepare travel plans.  (Updated Apr 2005)

Environmental Law Foundation
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Advice & referral service Tel 0207 831 7662
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Website www.greenchannel.com/elf 
Email info@elf-net.org

Leading environmental charity providing a voice for communities and individuals trying to prevent damage to the environment or to health (often from pollution or development) by linking them to legal and technical expertise. Initially this is free. Provides information, advice, and outreach services, and referrals may be given to pro bono (no win no fee) legal services. Organises education and training; runs seminars and skills workshops and creates networks to enable the community to influence the decision making process; debates legal reform; produces publications on environmental law. (Updated Nov 2000)

Website www.envirowise.gov.uk  Helpline 0800 585794

Government programme to minimise waste.  Offers free, independent advice, information to help small and medium size businesses on practical ways to minimise waste, introduce sustainability into the workplace, convert turnover into profit, and ensure compliance with environmental legislation.  Covers wide range including water and energy saving measures, cleaner design and technology.  Many case studies.  Published over 70 best practice guides (including Getting Started).  In the last year alone, saved British businesses more than 100 million.  Publications free to those registering on website.  Environment and Energy helpline offers: two hours of free consulting over the phone on a specific problem; FastTrack on-site waste reviews - free half-day site visits for SMEs (small to medium enterprises, below 250 employees) to solve operational issues; one day visit for free on-site assessment of operations for recommendations on waste management; identifying appropriate Envirowise products and sources of help; free on-site energy efficiency advice.  Runs seminars and workshops.  Provides map of Waste Minimisation Clubs - for local or regional companies to meet regularly and share best practice in reducing waste.  Formally known as the Environment Technology Best Practice Programme.  (Updated Apr 2005)