23 July 2014
Managing waste in your business
All businesses are subject to laws regulating how they manage waste – how they store, treat and dispose of it. Find out what the laws are, and how to comply.
All businesses should assess the environmental risks from producing, storing, handling, moving and disposing of waste.
'Waste' includes used packaging or paper, rubble, timber and plasterboard from demolition, trade effluent such as condensate water from compressed-air equipment and old pieces of electrical equipment, and 'hazardous waste' including lead-acid batteries, fluorescent light tubes, electrical equipment containing hazardous components such as televisions, oils, solvents, discarded chemicals and asbestos.
Guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website will help you decide if your operations involve waste.
The assessment should deal with questions such as:
- What environmental damage would be caused by an accident involving waste?
- How likely is an accident?
- Are their premises in environmentally sensitive areas?
- Do they give advice or are they involved in contracts that could result in a third party causing environmental damage?
If there is potential for major accidents, the COMAH regulations (Control of Major Accident Hazards) provide guidelines to help you when preparing risk assessments.
If you have contractors working for you on your site who produce waste, make sure your contract is clear on which of you is responsible for it.
- Manage your waste
- Control air pollution
- Managing water and land contamination
- Selling, letting or building commercial property
You are legally obliged to make sure your waste is handled properly. This has grown increasingly expensive in recent years. You can reduce waste, and your costs, by using materials and packaging for your products that meet environmental standards and can be recovered or re-used.
Waste you do produce should be stored securely so that it doesn't cause problems - eg by blowing away. There are rules on what that means – and which say that different types of hazardous waste should be stored separately - and how long you are allowed to store waste before you dispose of it.
To dispose of your waste, use a waste-disposal contractor authorised to treat and handle your kind of waste, who will dispose of it at a site that has a relevant permit. Transfers of waste must be covered by a waste transfer note - keep copies for your records. Waste sent to landfill must be treated to reduce its environmental impact – for example, by separating out the waste that can be recycled.
Your waste contractor can help and advise you, but you cannot discharge your duties under waste management laws by passing responsibility for waste disposal to a third party contactor and then distancing yourself from the whole issue. Find authorised waste contractors through the Environment Agency's website.
Higher-risk businesses such as certain types of manufacturing or intensive farming are likely to require an environmental permit from your regulator. Local authorities are responsible for some environmental regulation, particularly for lower-risk businesses such as offices and shops, but the main environmental regulators are the Environment Agency (in England and Wales), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment and Heritage Service (in Northern Ireland).
You must have an environmental permit if you carry out any activity or operation that is classed as a regulated facility. These set conditions on your activities, to ensure you use the best available techniques to reduce environmental harm to acceptable levels. If you are in a very high-risk industry, you may have additional obligations that are not covered here. Consider using an environmental consultant.
Larger producers will also need to register with their environmental regulator and meet recycling and recovery targets.
There are special rules for hazardous waste (eg batteries, fluorescent lights, computer monitors and solvents) and wastes that can harm health (eg asbestos). If you produce hazardous waste, check with your regulator whether you must register with them, and the special rules regarding storage and disposal.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) must also be separately stored and disposed of. You may be able to use a collection scheme provided by the equipment producer. These rules affect even small businesses – the first prosecution under the WEEE rules was a hairdressing supplier who failed to register as a business producing electrical and electronic waste, resulting in fines, compensation and costs of more than £35,000.
You may need a permit or exemption to burn waste. Contact your environmental regulator for advice. Some local areas have additional controls which may prohibit burning waste altogether.
Construction new build, renovation, alteration, installation, removal or maintenance projects with works over a certain value must have a site waste management plan setting out the types of waste expected to be produced and how it will be dealt with, eg recycled or disposed of.
In any event, give someone in your business overall responsibility for legal compliance, and train employees and contractors how to handle and dispose of waste. Monitor them to make sure they are carrying out your instructions – in one case, developers were guilty of an offence when the subcontractors on their site were secretly burning waste brought in from elsewhere.
Activities that produce significant air pollution, including burning waste, are likely to require an environmental permit. Contact your environmental regulator.
Also get approval from your local authority before installing a new boiler or furnace and ensure that you do not produce unnecessarily dirty smoke. Any fuel oil you use must not exceed set limits on sulphur content. You must not produce emissions that cause a nuisance to your neighbours. Potential problems include smoke, dust, smells and noise that prevent your neighbours using and enjoying their own property, or represent a threat to their health.
You must have a consent from your water company to discharge any trade effluent into their sewers – this includes any liquid waste other than clean water and ordinary domestic sewage. The consent may have conditions attached.
You must have authorisation before discharging trade effluent or solid waste into surface waters or groundwater. Liquid waste may require treatment before it can be disposed of. You must prevent accidental discharges of contaminated water.
There are special rules regarding storage of potentially harmful substances such as soils and chemicals. Get advice from your environmental regulator or trade association.
You must prevent accidental contamination of groundwater with harmful contaminants: for example, if rainwater running over your premises becomes contaminated. Businesses such as farms using pesticides need to work with their environmental regulator to control this risk.
You must clean up any land you contaminate. If you fail to do so, you may be served with a remediation notice requiring you to put things right. Continuing to fail may mean that the works are carried out anyway at your expense. You may be held responsible for contaminated land you own or occupy if whoever caused the contamination cannot be identified.
You must not use groundwater or surface water without a licence, unless the quantities are small.
If you manufacture products, or import from outside the European Union, check whether there are any additional obligations. Increasingly, manufacturers and importers have responsibilities for the potential environmental impact of their products. There are set limits on the use of some environmentally harmful substances, such as heavy metals and solvents. Under the REACH regulations, manufacturers and importers of hazardous substances typically need to register with the European Chemicals and Health Agency and comply with any restrictions imposed by their regulator, and to provide users with instructions on how to use their products safely.
Check whether there are any other environmental obligations for your business. For example, appliance manufacturers must provide energy efficiency labelling, and producers or users of significant amounts of dangerous substances must notify the regulator, carry out a risk assessment and produce a major accident plan. Most waste management businesses are required to register with their environmental regulator.
If you sell, let or construct a commercial property, you must provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), giving a rating of the energy efficiency and carbon emissions of the building. EPCs are produced using standard methods, with standard assumptions about energy usage, so that the energy efficiency of one building can easily be compared with another similar building. The aim is to help you consider energy efficiency and fuel costs as part of your investment.
If you need legal advice concerning the management of waste in your business, email email@example.com.