Hazardous times

Stuart Randall, of environmental consultants DARP, believes that UK companies are seriously underestimating the impact of the new Hazardous Waste Regulations

Many businesses struggle to keep up with new legislation affecting their sector. According to recent research, only 8% of small businesses are fully aware of their compliance obligations. Small firms find the influx of new laws confusing and costly – and this month’s Hazardous Waste Regulations threaten to have the furthest-ranging impact yet. Overnight, most UK companies will be charged with the safe disposal of any products being used or sold through them.

In January 2002 changes to the Hazardous Waste List were applied in the EU, reclassifying an additional 180 wastes as hazardous, including TVs and computer monitors.

Over ten million tonnes of hazardous waste is currently produced annually in England and Wales, half disposed of in landfill sites. However, under the new regulations, it is no longer permissible to dispose of hazardous waste alongside non-hazardous waste. This means the number of sites which can accept hazardous waste has shrunk drastically. We may assume that business costs, as a result, will rise dramatically.

First-time losers

Many businesses will now find themselves dealing with hazardous waste for the first time. Certain premises are exempt – including shops, offices and schools – but only if less than 200kg of hazardous waste are produced in any 12-month period – that’s about ten TVs or computer monitors.

There is a serious lack of awareness on the part of most UK businesses as to the full extent of their responsibilities. All kinds of businesses are now responsible – not just the waste merchants or end users. Companies all along the supply chain are involved, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers of all sizes and collection agencies.

Businesses will have to register with the Environment Agency, and are responsible for ensuring the safe and proper disposal or recovery of waste produced, even after it has passed to another party. This duty of care has no time limit, extending till the waste has either been properly disposed of or fully recovered. It applies to all controlled and hazardous wastes, meaning that waste materials produced as part of your business or within your workplace are regulated by law.

In addition, each UK business has a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent anyone keeping, depositing, disposing of or recovering your waste without either the necessary waste management licence or an exemption. This in itself is a minefield, enabling the Environment Agency to penalise any company along the use-and-waste chain.

However, the reality is that the Agency is both sensible in its approach and seriously under-resourced. Certainly, only blatant flouting of the law is likely to result in prosecution.

To dispose of hazardous waste, businesses must ensure any consignment notes have the correct documentation, with an accurate description of the waste, including the appropriate six-digit (EWC) numbers. A Waste Transfer Note (WTN) must be completed and accompany any transfer of ‘controlled waste’ between different holders. A WTN must be created for each load of waste that leaves your site, although season tickets can be used.

Small is vulnerable

The additional administrative burden spells trouble for businesses. The motivation behind the legislation is laudable, but the lack of division of appropriate responsibility between sectors and scales of businesses is disastrous. Once again, small businesses will be hardest-hit. If the Agency chooses strict enforcement of the rules, many smaller companies will be unable to keep up with the paperwork, the regulations and the collection, storage and disposal of waste. Larger firms may have the administrative potential or capacity to cope with compliance, but they will also drive the financial pressure onto the consumer to pay for additional workload. Smaller businesses may crack under the same strain.

It’s imperative that businesses support what must be an initially pragmatic approach by the Agency on compliance, particularly for the smaller business sector. The latter must rise to the challenge and create their own community collection and storage collectives, with local NGOs or local authorities, in order to adhere to the letter of the law, support the spirit of the legislation, and ensure their own survival.

For more information visit www.darpenvironmental.com

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