Are you Waste Aware?

Steve Lee, Chief Executive Officer at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management reviews the challenges ahead in waste management

All businesses produce waste. In the UK we’re used to getting rid of it cheaply, and it’s often an accepted or unnoticed cost. Now, things are changing, the times ahead will be challenging for waste producers and waste managers alike. Materials and energy costs are rising and new EU waste law will make us all re-think what we use up and throw out.

Challenges Ahead

European and UK waste law is about to increase the responsibilities of waste producers, including retailers. The emphasis in the last 25 years has been on safe and efficient disposal. The drive for waste safety will continue, standards to protect people and the environment will continue to rise and will cost more. Waste will become a boardroom issue and businesses will have to find more sustainable waste and materials solutions.

All businesses have had waste obligations for years. The “Duty of Care” regulations have been in place since 1992; the packaging producer responsibility since 1997, and Hazardous “special” wastes have been tightly controlled since 1972.

However, full understanding of waste law and its requirements is not common. Prosecutions for not complying with it are increasing and the legislation keeps changing – more wastes classed as “hazardous”, tougher targets for packaging, and restrictions on what you can and can’t do with wastes. The legislation keeps growing too – new products like cars, batteries and electrical goods are being covered by new producer responsibilities. Retailers will find themselves with more waste responsibilities and they will have to work harder to keep up to date and to comply with them.

The Landfill Directive is the best known recent EU waste legislation. Introduced in the UK in July 2002, it is designed to reduce the environmental impact of landfill sites. It will bring big changes to waste management, but the impact on waste producers may not be fully acknowledged. It limits landfill disposal of biodegradable municipal waste (a 65% reduction by 2020!) and stops most hazardous or liquid waste from being landfilled at all. Whole tyres were banned from landfill in 2003, and shredded tyres follow in 2006. All waste will have to be pre-treated prior to landfill, increasing the need for technological solutions and new facilities. If you have come to rely on cheap landfill, you may have to explore other treatment and management options because of this Directive.

Businesses producing hazardous waste – and you may not realise yet that some of your wastes may be re-classed as “hazardous” next year – will be hit hardest and earliest. By 2005 hazardous waste landfills will fall from 250 to less than 10 in England and Wales. Some areas will have none. Tough competition for suitable landfill space and the added cost of pre treatment will fuel waste minimisation or process changes. Many will strive to stop producing hazardous waste at all, but for many it will be unavoidable.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive will be law by August 2004. This Directive sets minimum levels for collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of WEEE, and imposes a “producer responsibility”. The maker or seller will have to take the product or its equivalent back at the end of its life, and ensure that it is recycled at no cost to the end user. Electrical equipment will also have to use less hazardous components. The WEEE Directive will cover anything powered by a current – household appliances, IT and communications equipment, audio and TV, lighting and alarms, tools, toys, leisure and sports goods. Even musical birthday cards are caught, and there is no lower limit in terms of the size of businesses having to comply.

The first deadline comes in August 2005. Electrical goods retailers will have to accept WEEE free of charge on a like for like basis, when customers buy an equivalent product. The first recycling targets bite in December 2006. They vary, depending on the category of WEEE, but up to 80% will have to be recovered or recycled. Financing WEEE management will be down to the producer. Details of the system have yet to be fixed, but DEFRA estimate the Directive will cost UK businesses £190m to £390m per year.

Europe is likely to lean more and more on producer responsibility to drive sustainable waste management forward. Retailers need to be prepared for it.

The Hazardous Waste Directive will be brought in here in 2004. It will bring 200 more types of waste into the definition of “hazardous”. Items like computer monitors, tv’s, and fluorescent tubes will be hazardous and subject to tighter controls. About 100,000 businesses routinely produce hazardous waste. As the definition broadens maybe 10 times as many will have to comply with these controls. Few will know yet about the forthcoming changes, but they are doubly important because of the disposal restrictions under the Landfill Directive. You need to know if and how you will be affected.


Change brings as many opportunities as threats. More companies will trade on their ‘sustainable credentials’, recognising that environmental improvements can support long-term competitiveness. And its not only UK businesses that face the pressures of higher waste costs and greater responsibilities. The market for better waste and materials solutions is growing fast, throughout Europe and beyond. Its important that UK businesses can compete in it, whether that means waste reduction, process change, waste treatments or better ways of complying. The first step is to be informed.

Two Sources of Information

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has an important role to play. We have a track record of informing, educating and promoting best practice amongst waste managers. Now we need to reach the people who make waste in the first place. In light of this, CIWM has recently launched two new initiatives. The first is a new training package. It is aimed at employees responsible for dealing with waste in companies, organisations, and authorities.

The Waste Awareness Certificate is a one-day course, designed to provide employees with the knowledge and skills to ensure responsible waste management. The Waste Awareness Certificate is designed to plug this gap and has the support of DEFRA, DTI and the Environment Agency.

CIWM is also hosting a Waste Producers’ Day in June 2004. CIWM’s Annual Conference and Exhibition attracts over 600 delegates and 6,000 visitors. As an addition to its usual programme in 2004, CIWM is developing a conference and seminar day dedicated to raising awareness amongst waste producers.

The key to success is being prepared, and the first step is to get informed. For further information on the work of CIWM, and specifically the Waste Awareness Certificate and Waste Producer Day visit, or contact Sarah Poulter on 01604 620426.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie