No time to waste

Martin Brocklehurst, head of waste strategy at the Environment Agency warns of changing regulations in the hazardous waste field

Hazardous waste rules being introduced over the next few years will establish a step-change to how hazardous waste is classified and managed, and business needs to start thinking about how it will be affected. For some, it will mean becoming a hazardous waste producer for the first time.

On 16 July 2004 the Landfill Directive ban on co-disposal (the mixing of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes) comes into force across England and Wales. While at the present time it is relatively cheap and easy to dispose of hazardous waste at a local landfill site, from July this will become a significant and potentially costly challenge for many. When the ban comes into effect there may be just a dozen or so sites in England – and none in Wales – that will be permitted to receive hazardous wastes, compared to over 240 today.

A wider definition of hazardous

Changes to the way hazardous wastes are classified in Europe have broadened the range of wastes that are regarded as hazardous for the purpose of disposal. Currently, around 5m tonnes of ‘special’ waste are collected for disposal each year in England and Wales, but this figure is set to increase significantly when the new classification is fully implemented. Everyday items such as cars, fluorescent lights, computers and batteries will be subject to control.

New regime for electrical goods

Further changes are imminent with the introduction of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and the RoHS (Restriction of hazardous Substances) Directive. Around 30,000 manufacturers and retailers will be subject to a new regulatory regime for electrical goods, due to come into force in stages from 2004 to 2006.

These changes require major changes to waste management practices and present a challenge to everyone involved. In addition, there is a real risk of an increase in illegal activities as unscrupulous contractors look to short-circuit the rules and make a quick profit. And while most businesses will want to operate lawfully, they will need information and advice to help them do so.

These changes offer a real opportunity to move to a future where resources and wastes are managed in a more sustainable way. There are a number of ways in which businesses can prepare for the changing regulations.

Budget for rising disposal costs

With more stringent treatment of hazardous waste and fewer places to dispose of it, costs for hazardous waste disposal are set to rise. Overall, the estimated cost to businesses in managing hazardous wastes will rise from £150m to £500m/year. This is more likely to reflect the true cost for managing hazardous waste, as well as creating an incentive to reduce the amounts of hazardous waste being produced.

Ensure you know where waste is going

Mismanagement of waste, particularly hazardous waste, has the potential to harm the environment and human health. All businesses have a legal duty of care to ensure that their hazardous waste is passed to someone who has the authority to handle such waste – licensed waste carriers.

Businesses should review existing contracts to ensure that hazardous waste is going where it is meant to be going. If in doubt check with the Environment Agency. Failure to do so might result in a company’s waste being flytipped, leading to the prosecution of your business, as well as the flytipper.

Reduce the amount you produce

The handling, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste is expensive. However, waste minimisation (including substituting hazardous materials for non-hazardous materials) provides an opportunity to reduce costs.

The government-funded waste minimisation support programme Envirowise can help companies ensure they are not wasting their business profits. Experience in the UK suggests that a wide range of industries can save 4-5% of turnover by employing waste minimisation techniques.

Manufacturing companies, for example, can typically save up to £1,000/employee, frequently with little or no capital investment. These cost savings are often not just one-offs. Cash savings, while creating a competitive edge that is attractive to businesses, aren’t the only benefits businesses can achieve by reducing the amount of hazardous waste they produce. Reducing hazardous waste can also help to reduce the risk of pollution incidents on site – and therefore fines – and can also have further know on effects such as boosting a company’s public and customer profile.

Keep up to date

There will be further changes in the following years, which may result in a company becoming a hazardous waste producer for the first time.
Over the next few years more and more materials and products will be classified as hazardous waste. To keep up to date with legal changes and find out how they will affect your business refer to NetRegs – – the free online portal for small businesses, which provides clear guidance on the regulations governing business activities as well as information on forthcoming legislation and good practice advice.

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