The struggle to stay within the law

When it comes to the fast-moving world of waste law, not every facilities manager is up to speed on the changes and what they mean for their organisation, according to recent research

Less than 60% of facilities managers are aware of the new waste pre-treatment requirements that came into effect last October under recent changes to the Landfill Directive. Their knowledge of how to comply is also patchy, according to the latest PHS quarterly survey of facilities managers.

The survey comprised the views of 200 facilities management professionals (FM) across the UK. It investigated organisational awareness of the surge in new and amended waste legislation in recent years, and how FMs are responding to the challenges. In respect of the Landfill Directive, only 56% of interviewed FMs were aware that changes had taken place that would affect their organisations' waste management procedures.

Of these, 28% knew (or guessed) that they had to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, a quarter knew that they had to recycle what had to be recycled, 20% knew that they had to segregate waste, and just 16% were familiar with the central point - the need to pre-treat waste.

Uncertain times
Despite the looming deadline for compliance at the time of interview, more than half of respondents were either still planning or unsure about what they would be doing about it. Awareness of The Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007, which apply to any business with a turnover exceeding £2M producing more than 50 tonnes of packaging a year, fared slightly better at 63%.

Awareness was greater in the private sector portion of the sample (70%) than in the public sector (55%). This is probably because of the fact that more private-sector respondents manufactured or distributed products that need packaging (43%) compared with public-sector respondents (9%). But nearly a quarter of aware respondents were still unsure about what they had to do to comply.

Encouragingly, 83% of respondents had heard of the WEEE Directive, with just 10% unsure of the implications for their organisations. Among those that knew of the directive, there was good awareness about the disposal of computers (73%), but less knowledge of other items affected.

Less than half (46%) understood that general electrical items, such as toasters, kettles, fridges and cookers, were covered, while less than a quarter realised that fax machines and fluorescent light tubes were covered.

Someone else's problem
Scant appreciation of the WEEE Directive's scope may be due to the fact that more than half of respondents (54%) believed their IT departments to be responsible for disposal of computers and other IT equipment and perhaps, therefore, for having a more detailed knowledge of the legislation governing it.

Among those FMs who understood their organisations' arrangements for disposing of electronic and electrical items, it seems that the specialist nature of this type of waste has been recognised. Sixty-five per cent of those organisations used a dedicated computer recycler and 14% were able to return items to companies supplying them with new IT equipment.

The survey also found the emergence of a strong organisational recycling culture in the UK, with recycled waste ranging from paper (88%), cardboard (74%) and cans (50%) through to printer cartridges (7%), oils (2%) and polystyrene (1%). In addition, 42% of respondents said they had a waste compactor or baler on site.

While prosecution is a risk for any organisation failing to comply with legislation, it may seem a distant and unlikely prospect for most. But the recent rise in producer responsibility and the polluter pays principle means businesses can no longer afford to be complacent about it. Ignorance of waste legislation and best practice guidelines can have a real and immediate financial cost.

When it comes to keeping up to date with legislative changes, having an in-house expert appears to be the favoured mechanism in most organisations, cited by 40% of all respondents. Magazines and journals came second (used by 36% of respondents) followed by internet sources (27%) and government bodies (22%) such as the Environment Agency, regional assemblies and Netregs - a government website that provides businesses with free information to help them comply with legislative changes.

Top tips: Compliance with waste legislation
* Carry out a site audit to keep track of waste produced and help identify the recycling options available. Retain these audits to help demonstrate organisational compliance with the Landfill Directive.
* Consider investing in a baler or compactor to help manage your waste more effectively.
* If you opt to ask your waste disposal supplier to pre-treat your waste, ensure the agreement is specified in writing.
* Go to www.netregs.gov.uk and sign up for regular email updates on legislation affecting your industry.

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