Guide: Law on Rubbish Clearance

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Each year the UK produces over 26 million tonnes of waste, which on average equates to around 400kg of waste per person per year. Of this waste, 12 million tonnes are recycled, and 14 million tonnes are sent to landfill sites – a recycling rate of 45%. It is also estimated that businesses produce almost a fifth of waste in the UK.

To control and prevent the amount of waste produced and disposed of in England, there are strict rules and regulations that both businesses and householders must abide by. To help combat waste further the EU has also implemented the Waste Framework Directive to help everybody cut down the amount of waste they produce. This Directive covers the entire supply chain from product developers and designers, distributors and end-users.

This guide covers the laws and guidelines surrounding rubbish clearance for both businesses and householders to help you dispose of your waste in the right way.

Contents

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The Environmental Protection Act 1990

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 took over the Control of Pollution Act 1974, and it controls how pollution from industrial processes should be managed. The Act applies to England, Scotland and Wales predominantly, however in Northern Ireland the main parts of the Act are carried across into the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. The Environmental Protection Act covers all issues concerning waste on land and defines the duties of Local Authorities, businesses and citizens when it comes to disposing of waste.

The Act aims to help any business or person who produces, carries, keeps, treats, disposes of, or imports-controlled waste to do so safely and securely. It also contains rules dedicated to statutory nuisances and litter, as well as the control of genetically modified organisms and other substances.

Implementing and enforcing the terms of the Act is the responsibility of the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales in Wales and SEPA in Scotland. Duties are passed to the environmental protection departments of local authorities.

When it was first created in 1990, the Environmental Protection Act had nine parts but several of these parts have been replaced by later legislation. The parts that were replaced are Part I – Pollution Control, Part IIA – Contaminated Land, Part V – Radioactive Substances, and Part VII – Nature Conservation.

The remaining sections are as follows:

  • Part II: Waste on Land. This section covers controlled waste and lists different offences for any business or person who neglects their care of duty and produces, carries, keeps, treats, disposes of, or imports-controlled waste.
  • Part III: Statutory Nuisances and Clean Air. This part outlines the definition of a statutory nuisance and the processes required for dealing with them.
  • Part IV: Litter. This section covers litter laws and gives Local Authorities the power to keep public highways clear of litter and waste.
  • Part VI: Genetically Modified Substances. This section of the Act lists the controls that are placed on the release of genetically modified substances.
  • Part VIII: Miscellaneous. This section covers dangerous substances and a variety of other miscellaneous dangers such as; control of dogs, pollution at sea, straw and stubble burning. This part of the Act also provides the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations relating to the import, use, supply and storage of dangerous substances. The Secretary of State can also make regulations that require manufacturers, importers or supplies to provide information about any dangerous substances used so that they can be accurately assessed and controlled.
  • Part IX: General. This section states that the Secretary of State has the power to make regulations giving effect to European Legislation and other international obligations.

What are the Penalties?

The penalties imposed on those who break the laws of The Environmental Protection Act 1990 depends on which part of the Act has been breached and how severely. In some cases, where an individual or business owner commits a criminal offence (such as incorrectly storing or disposing of controlled waste) an unlimited fine and a prison sentence could be imposed.

For a breach that is less severe such as causing a statutory nuisance, an abatement order can be served to the business owner or individual. The abatement order can restrict or prevent business activities until the nuisance has been reduced or removed. If the order does not comply with this becomes a criminal offence resulting in a fine of up to £5,000 with a further fine of £500 for every day the nuisance is left unresolved.

Outdoor overflowing rubbish bin in park

EU Waste Framework Directive

The EU Waste Framework Directive also sets out rules for managing waste within the EU and is a framework that the UK still complies with currently. The Directive aims to reduce the environmental impact of waste and encourages reuse, recycling and recovery where possible.

The Directive provides general principles such as the Waste Hierarchy, Polluter Pays Principle and Extended Producer Responsibility.

The Waste Framework Directive outlines the concepts and definitions of waste, recycling and recovery, explaining when waste ceases to be waste and becomes a secondary raw material (the end-of-waste criteria).

The Waste Hierarchy

The Waste Hierarchy has five steps ranking waste management options according to what is best for the environment, these steps are:

  • Prevention – This step requires manufacturers and designers to use fewer materials in their processes to cut down on the amount of waste created. It also means designing products that have longer lives and can be reused wherever possible.
  • Preparing for re-use – This stage involves checking, cleaning, repairing and refurbishing products as well as recovering spare parts if the whole unit cannot be reused.
  • Recycling – This means turning waste into new products or substances and includes composting.
  • Other recovery – This includes anaerobic digestion incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste.
  • Disposal – This covers landfill and incineration without energy recovery.

Your Legal Obligations

By law, if your business or public body (or local authorities on behalf of householders) produces or handles waste you must take all such measures as are reasonable to apply the waste hierarchy. This includes importing, producing, carrying, keeping, treating or disposing of waste; dealers or brokers who have control of waste, and anyone responsible for the transfer of waste. You must also ensure that the waste hierarchy is applied when you transfer waste to another person.

You will also need to add a declaration on your Duty of Care Waste Transfer Notes and Hazardous Waste Consignment Notes confirming that you have complied with the regulations. When giving your waste to someone else it is legally your responsibility to ensure that you have taken all reasonable steps to keep your waste safe and that the person taking it is authorised and can deal with it or dispose of it safely.

How To Put The Waste Hierarchy Into Practice

To put the waste hierarchy into practice within your business you should think about all your processes especially when negotiating waste management contracts. The waste hierarchy will also help you to save money and resources when applied correctly.

To begin with, plan how you will apply the waste hierarchy and set some KPIs so that you can monitor your performance regularly. You will also need to know what waste you are producing and identify ways that you can produce less (printing less in an office environment is a great example). You should also make efforts to sort and segregate the waste that you do produce to help you or others recover value from it.

If you make any waste management decisions that do not meet the stages of the waste hierarchy, you must be able to justify them with good reason. It is recommended to keep a record of all your decisions and how they came to be made.

Outlined below are some practical ways to implement the steps of the hierarchy.

  • Reducing and preventing waste. Take a look at the day to day running of your business and its processes and identify areas where waste can be reduced or prevented altogether. This includes reducing food waste, re-using carrier bags, and using refillable water bottles or reusable cutlery. You could also look for ways to sell, donate or swap unwanted items such as furniture, textiles, electronic equipment, toys etc. If an item breaks look for ways to repair it or refurbish it instead of buying new ones.
  • Helping waste to be reused. Before sending anything to waste contractors you should consider whether it can be reused. This means using a substance, product or material again before it becomes waste. For example, machinery, clothes, or electronic equipment could be repaired or refurbished and then sold on instead of being sent off as waste.
  • Recycling your waste. There is a large number of materials that can be recycled but you must ensure that the contractor you use is legally permitted to accept the waste and recycle it. You should discuss with your waste contractor to identify all of the materials that can be recycled.
  • Is there anything else that can be extracted from your waste? Once you have exhausted all other options, before resulting in the final disposal stage of waste removal you should consider whether any other products or energy could be gained from your waste. Energy recovery technologies include combustion with energy recovery, anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis, as well as biorefinery technologies. Again, you should talk to your waste contractor about these methods.

Polluter Pays Principle

Another element of the EU Waste Framework Directive, the Polluter Pays principle is a rule that those who produce the pollution are the ones who should pay for the cost of managing it so that it does not damage the environment or human health. An example is a factory producing potentially harmful substances as a by-product of its operations is held accountable for the safe disposal of the waste. Pollution in the UK is defined as contamination of the land, water or air by harmful or potentially harmful substances.

The Polluter Pays Principle is not yet applied to greenhouse gas emissions due to the slow recognition of the link between these gasses and the harmful effect they have on human health. However, there are calls for this principle to be applied to those who create greenhouse gasses through a ‘carbon tax’. This would mean that polluters must pay a charge on the emission of greenhouse gases equivalent to the potential cost caused through future climate change. This creates a financial incentive for businesses and encourages them to minimise the number of greenhouse gasses that they produce.

Extended Producer Responsibility

Extended Producer Responsibility encourages manufacturers to take environmental responsibility for their products and packaging when they become classed as waste.

Some of the activities that fall under the EPR program are:

  • Creating ‘take back’ programs where a brand takes back and recycles a product or packaging once the consumer no longer needs it.
  • Arranging waste collections, recycling or other suitable ways of disposal.
  • Designing products and packaging that can be easily reused or recycled.

Where a business is operating under the EPR guidelines, it should also take steps to educate its customers and the public in taking steps to reuse and recycle products and packaging wherever possible.

EPR offers several benefits for the businesses that take part in the schemes. Some of them are:

  • The generation of positive PR opportunities
  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Improved environmental credentials
  • Competitive advantage over businesses that do not take part

Different coloured bins, for paper, glass, recycling & general waste

The EU Landfill Directive

Once the waste has been put through the stages of the waste hierarchy and it has been determined that it needs to be disposed of, it will be sent to a landfill. The EU Landfill Directive controls how this waste is dealt with and aims to reduce it or prevent the harmful effects on the environment as far as possible. The particular problems posed by landfill waste are negative effects on surface water, groundwater, soil, air and human health.

The Landfill Directive sorts waste into different categories which are, municipal waste, hazardous waste, non-hazardous waste and inert waste. The directive applies to all landfills that are designated as waste disposal sites for the deposit of waste onto or into the land. It does not, however, apply in the following circumstances:

  • The spreading of sludges on the soil (including sewage sludges and sludges resulting from dredging operations.
  • The use in landfills of inert waste for redevelopment or restoration work.
  • The deposit of unpolluted soil or non-hazardous inert waste that has come from prospecting and extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources as well as from the operation of quarries.
  • The deposit of non-hazardous dredging sludges alongside small waterways from which they have been dredged and of non-hazardous sludges in surface water, including the bed and its subsoil.

There are three categories of landfill as outlined under the Landfill Directive. These are landfills for hazardous waste, landfills for non-hazardous waste, and landfills for inert waste. There are also rules to be followed before waste can be laid down in a landfill to avoid and minimise risks to the environment.

The procedure that must be followed before waste can be committed into the land is outlined below.

  • Waste must be treated before being landfilled
  • Hazardous waste within the meaning of the Directive must be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.
  • Landfills for non-hazardous waste must be used for municipal waste and other non-hazardous waste.
  • Landfill sites for inert waste must only be used for inert waste.

Some types of waste cannot be disposed of at a landfill site. The following types of waste may not be accepted for landfill disposal.

  • Liquid waste
  • Flammable waste
  • Explosive or oxidising waste
  • Hospital and other clinical waste which is infectious
  • Used tyres (although there may be some exceptions)
  • Any other type of waste that does not meet the criteria set out in Annex II.

To open a landfill site and comply with the rules of the EU Landfill Directive a permit must be granted first. When applying for a permit there is a considerable amount of information required first. The information required is:

  • The identity of the applicant and in some cases of the operator.
  • A description of the types and quantities of waste to be deposited.
  • The capacity of the disposal site and a description of it.
  • The proposed methods for pollution control.
  • The proposed operation, monitoring and control plan.
  • The plan for closure and aftercare procedures.
  • The applicant’s financial security.
  • An impact assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

Rubbish trucks, digger on landfill site

Disposing of Household Waste

When it comes to disposing of household waste many local authorities will operate on a three-bin system for general waste, recycling and garden waste. It is important to put the right waste into the right bins so that it can easily be recycled, disposed of or reused in line with the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the correct waste is not put in the correct bins some local authorities may refuse to collect the bins until it is sorted correctly.

If you are unsure which bin your household waste should go into here is a breakdown of the different types.

Recycling

  • Paper such as newspapers, magazines, junk mail, loose shredded paper, envelopes
  • Phone directories and catalogues
  • Cardboard
  • Aerosols
  • Food tins
  • Drink cans and cartons
  • Glass bottles and jars, but no other types of glass
  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic food trays and yoghurt pots
  • Tetra Pak packaging

General Waste

  • General refuse and pet waste
  • Plastic bags
  • Polystyrene
  • Light bulbs, but not fluorescent bulbs
  • Glassware such as Pyrex and mirrors
  • Sanitary products
  • Nappies

Food Waste (also classed as General Waste)

  • Plate scrapings
  • Vegetable peelings
  • Meat and bones
  • Eggshells
  • Cooked and uncooked food
  • Teabags and coffee grounds

Garden Waste

  • Bark
  • Flowers
  • Grass and hedge cuttings
  • Leaves
  • Plants
  • Small branches
  • Twigs
  • Weeds

Certain items cannot be disposed of through normal household bin collections. If you are trying to dispose of waste that cannot be included in weekly collections, you should call your local authority to arrange a collection or visit your local household waste recycling centre.

Items that cannot be disposed of through household bin collections are:

  • Electrical items such as microwaves, toasters and hairdryers
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Textiles including duvets, pillows, and curtains
  • Soil or mud
  • Large amounts of garden waste
  • DIY waste such as rubble, bricks, plaster or tiles.

Fly-Tipping

When waste is illegally dumped or disposed of it is known as fly-tipping. Illegal dumping occurs when a large amount of waste is left in a place such as public parks, highways, driveways, and private land instead of being disposed of correctly.

Fly-tipping poses a serious environmental problem and legislation to tackle it is getting tougher. Fly-tipping is a criminal offence under Section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and if you are caught, you’ll be at risk of facing a fine of at least £400.

To avoid adding to the fly-tipping problem, businesses and commercial organisations, in particular, are urged to make sure that they employ only authorised rubbish removal companies. Disreputable waste removal firms are most likely to be behind a large number of illegal fly-tipping cases and must be held accountable.

Further to this, if it is found that a business has not performed a duty of care when it comes to finding a reputable rubbish removal firm, then that business remains responsible for disposing of the waste correctly. If the matter is progressed to a court hearing, a business is at risk of receiving an unlimited penalty and possible imprisonment for those responsible.

Under fly-tipping laws, it is also illegal to transport controlled waste without being registered under section 1 of the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989. If found guilty of transporting controlled waste without the required permit you will be subject to a fine. There is also a £300 Fixed Penalty Notice for failure to produce registration documentation upon request.

It is not only businesses that can fall foul of illegal dumping regulations, but householders are also under the obligation to take reasonable measures to ensure that their household waste is disposed of safely and lawfully. To ensure this duty of care is carried out, you should check that the waste disposer is listed on the Environment Agencies Public Register (you can check this using the disposer’s ‘waste carrier number’).

Rubbish dumped in countryside

Disposing of Business or Commercial Waste

When you operate a business that produces waste you have certain obligations that you must fulfil. This is called your Duty of Care and includes:

  • Keeping waste to a minimum by doing everything you can to prevent, reuse, recycle or recover waste (following the Waste Hierarchy outlined above)
  • Sorting and storing waste safely and securely
  • Completing a waste transfer note for every load of waste that leaves your business premises
  • Making sure that your waste contractor is registered to dispose of waste.
  • Not allowing your waste carrier to dispose of your waste illegally and reporting them if they do.

What Counts as Business Waste?

In some cases, you may be unsure which types of waste are classed as business waste. Typically, business waste is any waste that comes from commercial activity. If you use part of your home to run your business from then any waste that is generated from that part of your home is also classed as business waste.

Business waste also includes waste that comes from:

  • Construction
  • Demolition
  • Industry
  • Agriculture

In some cases, a business can dispose of its waste but to do this you must register as a waste carrier. For some types of waste, a permit from the Environment Agency might also be required to allow you to use, treat, store and dispose of commercial waste.

There are two types of permit that you can apply for if you are considering disposing of your waste. Standard rules permit or a bespoke permit if your operations fall outside the remit of the version of the standard rules.

Disposing of Hazardous Waste

If your business produces or handles hazardous waste you must ensure that it causes no harm or damage to the environment or human health. Waste is considered hazardous if it is harmful to humans or the environment (this also includes any materials or substances that it contains).

Some examples of waste classed as hazardous include:

  • Asbestos
  • Chemicals such as brake fluid or print toner
  • Batteries
  • Solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Oils (except edible ones) such as car oil
  • Equipment that contains ozone-depleting substances – such as fridges
  • Hazardous waste containers

The way you should handle hazardous waste depends on which category you fall into. The categories for hazardous waste handlers are Producers and Holders, Carriers, and Consignees.

Producers and Holders

If you are a producer or holder of hazardous waste, the first thing you should do is classify your waste so that you can decide how to handle it and ensure all of the paperwork is completed correctly.

Once this has been done, you should then separate and store hazardous waste safely and use an authorised business to collect, recycle or dispose of the waste. Always make sure that the waste carrier you choose is registered and that the waste sites they are using have environmental permits. Before your waste is taken away by a contractor, ensure that the consignment note is completed correctly. You should then keep one copy and give two copies to the carrier collecting the waste.

As a producer or holder of hazardous waste, you are required to keep records for three years at the premises that produced or stored the waste. These records must consist of consignment notes, consignee returns (from businesses that receive your waste (consignees), and any related documents such as carrier schedules and records of rejected loads.

Hazardous Waste Carriers

As a carrier of hazardous waste, you are required to follow specific procedures. To begin with, you must register as a waste carrier if you do any of these things as part of your business – transport, buy, sell or dispose of waste, or arrange for someone else to buy, sell or dispose of waste. If you do not register and begin to operate without a licence, you can be fined up to £5,000.

Whilst operating as a waste carrier, you must always check parts A and B of the consignment note and the waste itself before you accept to ensure that it is classified correctly. When you load the waste for transportation you should make sure that it is separated correctly and that you have filled in the part of the consignment note that applies to you.

There should be three copies of a consignment note, one to be left with the waste producer and two that should stay with the waste until it reaches its destination. The destination must be an authorised waste site and should be clearly stated on the consignment notes.

As a waste carrier, you should keep records for one year. These records should contain consignment notes and any related documents such as carrier schedules or records of rejected loads.

Consignees

If you receive, treat or dispose of hazardous waste you are classed as a consignee and have a specific duty of care to fulfil. To start, you must have an environmental permit or register an exemption to start operating.

Before you accept a consignment of waste, check the consignment note and make sure that the waste is classified correctly. If the load is missing a consignment note, or if the note is incorrect or incomplete you should reject the waste.

If you accept the waste, complete part E of the consignment note and keep one copy and hand one back to the carrier. Then send consignee returns to the Environment Agency, and the waste producer or holder, to report on any waste that you accept or reject.

As a consignee you are also required to keep records that should include; consignment notes, any related documents such as carrier schedules or records of rejected loads, and a site inventory that records where waste was stored, treated or disposed of at your site. These records should be easily accessible in an emergency.

Disposing of your waste safely and securely is not only a legal requirement for all householders and business owners, but it also prevents irreversible harm to the environment and human health.

Yellow hazard barrels in countryside

Summary

We hope the above comes in useful in helping you understand the laws regarding waste disposal. It’s important to make sure you have all the right knowledge so you can safely dispose of any waste you or your household/business may have, so make sure you’re familiar with the above!

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