IPPC: making your permit application

Joe Morris of Cranfield University and Louisa Rix, an independent consultant, summarise the key features of IPPC, sources of information and the issues facing environmental managers as they prepare their permit applications.

The European Union introduced the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive in 1996 to provide common rules for controlling emissions from industrial installations. In the UK, the directive is put into practice through the PPC regulations 2000. Its purpose is to achieve “a high level of protection of the environment taken as a whole by, preventing or, where that is not practicable, reducing emissions into the air, water and land”. It does this by requiring the operators of installations containing specified industrial activities above a given ‘threshold’ size to obtain and maintain a ‘permit’. This permit requires not only compliance with existing environmental law, but also the use of ‘best available techniques’ (BAT) which prevent or minimise the risk of pollution. Furthermore, the permit also requires that emissions do not exceed locally defined ‘environmental quality standards’ such as air quality, even if this requires tighter controls than that normally associated with BAT.

The PPC regulations are intentionally all-embracing. They build on the UK’s previous Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) (1990) regime which controlled emissions to land, air and water from industrial processes associated with high environmental risk, such as power generation and production of chemicals. They extend coverage to include material use, waste management, energy efficiency, water use, noise and odour, and operations management. Furthermore, they bring a number of industrial activities into the regulatory framework for the first time, including food and drink manufacturers.

Food, drink and IPPC

The food and drink industry is a major business sector in the UK with a market value in excess of £90Bn. It is very diverse in terms of the type and size of businesses, and in the range of products and processes, including meat, fruit juices, fresh and processed vegetables, dairy produce, animal feed and grain handling.

Food and drink manufacturing businesses which carry out activities of the type and scale listed under Part A(1) of Schedule 1 of the regulations must apply for a permit from the regulator. The regulator is the Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales and SEPA in Scotland (see Table 1). Any new eligible installations require a permit before they can operate. The application windows for existing installations are shown in Table 1. There is not much time left.

IPPC, is it for you?

The first thing a business needs to do is determine whether activities at a particular site are likely to fall under the regulations. This depends on type and size. Where an activity is on the cusp of a threshold it may make sense to reduce it to below the threshold, or relocate to a site which is already captured by the regulations. This is a natural strategic response and does not imply that businesses are rejecting the spirit of the regulation. There may be uncertainty about interpreting the thresholds for production capacity, where for example ‘wastes’ from a processing line are sold off as by-products and are therefore included in the estimation of capacity. Clarification may be needed where products comprise
a mix of animal and vegetable products.

IPPC applies to ‘installations’ which are defined as the ‘technical units’ where one or more of the regulated activities are carried out, together with other directly associated activities on-site which could have an effect on pollution. Defining the boundary of an installation is a critical issue, because this defines the scope of the regulation. The dedicated waste water treatment plant of a vegetable processor for example will be part of the installation, will be subject to regulation, and will need to conform to BAT. Where a plant uses a waste treatment facility operated by a third party this directly associated technical unit and the operator concerned must simultaneously acquire a permit. The EA provides interpretive guidance on the definitions and threshold values in its Regulatory Guidance Series No 4 (see Table 2). Such issues need to be resolved with the regulator before the application for a permit is made.

Obtaining an IPPC permit

The written application for a permit must include details of the operator, the site, its location and condition, processes carried out, the use of raw materials, energy and water, all likely emissions to the environment, provisions for waste management, and proposals for monitoring environmental performance. In particular the application must demonstrate the operator is using BAT within the industry to achieve the high level of environmental protection required. In this definition ‘best’ implies the most effective means of pollution prevention, and ‘available’ means techniques that are currently available and accessible to the operator and therefore, by implication, economically and technically viable for the industry concerned. ‘Techniques’ means not only the design and installation of plant and equipment, but also how these are operated, maintained and eventually decommissioned. BAT is at the heart of the PPC regulations: specifying the use of industrial techniques as a means of delivering environmental protection.

It is important therefore that applicants know what the BAT requirements are for their industry. A series of BAT reference documents, known as BREFs, are being produced by the European Commission, such that BAT is defined at EU level. Guidance on BAT is then disseminated to operators. An applicant can show compliance with PPC regulations by the use of a specified BAT. Many applicants will have their own particular products, processes and ways of doing things that are critical to their competitive advantage. In these cases the applicant must be able to demonstrate that the techniques currently used or proposed are as good as BAT. Once again, prior consultation with the regulator will help.

The draft BREF for the food and drink industry is an extensive document which contains an enormous amount of information, most of which is not required by each individual sub-sector such as milk processing. Fortunately, the EA has extracted the relevant parts of BREF and incorporated these into the permit application process.

The key environmental issues as far as PPC is concerned for the food and drink industry are: waste minimisation, water use, releases associated with energy use, emissions to air, effluent management, accident risk, hygiene and food safety. These are the points of focus for the application process and the definition of BAT, and where the permit applicant will need to place most effort. Of these water and waste are likely to be the key issues. The food and drink industry is not a particularly hazardous industry and the conditions for BAT and permitting reflect this. The regulator wants to see that water use and waste management are under control and, rather than being prescriptive and inflexible, that the best solutions are selected from a range of BAT options in accordance with site conditions. Where applications have been rejected, it has often been because they have not provided sufficient information about key environmental effects, or adequate confirmation that processes conform with the principles of BAT.

Guidance and advice

To ease the burden of regulation on both the regulated and the regulator, the EA has produced a number of guidance notes and templates (see Table 2). ‘Guidance on producing a good IPPC application’ provides an overview of the application process and what aspects are likely to require the most attention in order to ensure a successful outcome.

The EA has produced so-called ‘horizontal guidance’ which deals with broad issues such as BAT principles, energy, noise and odour which are relevant across all industrial sectors. The application for permit requires an environmental assessment of the impact of the installation. Guidance on this is contained within horizontal guidance: H1. Environmental Assessment and Appraisal of BAT, which, in turn, is supported by a spreadsheet calculation routine. Some of these documents are not for the faint hearted, but with determination, and guidance from the regulator, the procedures are well mapped out and can be followed systematically.

The EA has also produced ‘vertical’ or sector guidance which focuses on particular industries, such as the food and drink industry. For example there is a comprehensive generic guidance note for the food and drink industry as a whole as well as specific guidance for different types of activities within it. At the time of writing the latter are available for dairy and milk processing, poultry processing, red meat processing and soft drinks.

Applicants have found understanding what is required to achieve BAT particularly difficult. The guidance and application forms for food and drink have been designed to address this problem. In the section of the application forms dealing with the technical description of the plant, information is requested in a particular format which allows comparison with the indicative BAT given in the guidance.

It may be that the current operating techniques at an installation do not conform with BAT. Where this is the case an improvement programme may be agreed, usually for completion within three years of the issue of the permit.

The EA charges for IPPC permits in order to recover the costs of regulation. Charges reflect the intensity of regulation as determined by complexity of the installation, location, the type and magnitude of emissions, and operator performance. The regulator has adopted a risk-based approach known as Environmental Protection Operator Performance and Risk Appraisal (EP OPRA). This is designed to allow the EA to target its regulatory effort and resources at those activities and companies that present the greatest risk to the environment. Organisations that can demonstrate effective management of environmental risks will be subject to less intensive monitoring and therefore charges by the regulator. This is where externally accredited ISO 14001 or EMAS certification can help.

It is evident that a considerable amount of information is required to make an IPPC permit application. However, companies that are large enough to be covered by IPPC can usually draw on existing information, possibly from a QA system or from the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) process. Of course, time and effort will be needed to gather data together in the form required for IPPC. Where information is available in existing documentation, it may be sufficient to refer to this rather than reproduce it in the application.

It is a good idea to contact the EA well in advance of making the application. Fifteen hours of free advice are available to each applicant. It is important that this is used wisely, after some preparatory work has been done using the extensive guidance available. Furthermore, the EA has worked closely in the last year or so with trade associations such as the Food and Drink Federation, British Meat Processing Federation, Soft Drinks Federation and others, to promote a better understanding of IPPC and produce suitable guidance material.

Points of concern

Some IPPC applicants have been concerned that the need to place their applications on the public register could give away confidential details of production methods to the advantage of competitors, especially where producers used unpatented processes. The PPC regulations cater for this. Whilst disclosure of information on environmental performance is an essential element of IPPC, this is confined to demonstrating that equivalent BAT standards are met, and there should be no need to disclose commercially confidential information which is not material to the award of permit.

Some confusion has arisen between IPPC and development planning consent. The two are completely separate regulatory functions. A successful IPPC application is not a guarantee of planning consent, or vice versa. Another issue is that of the site review. Should the permitted activity be discontinued on the site, there is a requirement to return the site to its condition at the time of the issue of the permit. For already contaminated sites, it is important that this condition is logged if the costs of restoration due to activities prior to the permit are to be avoided.

Getting help

With IPPC in its third year of implementation and much more comprehensive and accessible guidance from the EA and trade associations, the task facing the food and drink industry is not as daunting as first thought. Within a newly regulated organisation, it will be necessary to allocate responsibility for permit application to an IPPC team, and training needs should met as soon as possible. Short course training can be an effective mechanism for this, possibly arranging a tailor-made course. It is likely that organisations not previously familiar with this type of regulation will find that engaging the services of an experienced consultant will be particularly useful, ideally in a support role, helping to build up an in-house capability to subsequently maintain the permit. Specialist inputs, however, may be required to carry out emissions measurement or produce a site report. Consideration should be given to establishing an Environmental Management System to support the IPPC process and possibly reduce the permitting charges.

In conclusion

IPPC will be a new experience for many organisations in the food and drink industry. It is apparent that by now most, but not all, eligible businesses are well prepared. If you are part of one that is not, there must be a sense of urgency. So, get the guidance, lock yourself away for a day, assess the extent of the challenge, identify the key issues and the gaps in knowledge, determine the best way forward and quickly establish a positive rapport with your regulator.
The authors acknowledge insights provided by Mark Maleham of the Environment Agency, but the views expressed here are those of the authors.

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