Pre-treatment: what does it mean for you?

Any non-hazardous waste must now be treated prior to being landfilled, while landfilling of non-hazardous liquid waste is banned. Eluned Watson takes a look at the pre-treatment regulations that have just come into effect

Why are the requirements being introduced?

The new requirements are part of the package of measures in the Landfill Directive designed to help protect the environment by increasing waste recycling and recovery and to reduce polluting emissions from landfills. The directive has been transposed into UK law by the Landfill (England & Wales) Regulations 2002 as amended.

Who is affected?

All businesses that produce or treat waste before it goes to landfill are likely to be affected. Although the regulations place the obligation on the landfill operator, the operator will need to liaise with waste carriers and producers to ensure that the treatment requirements have been met. Waste producers will need to complete a written declaration stating the treatment used and, if relevant, the amount of waste sorted for recovery so waste can be accepted at landfills. This can be incorporated into waste transfer notes.

Landfill operators will need to ensure that waste is treated prior to landfill and have a duty to reject waste unless they are sure it has been treated. Operators will need to decide whether they require a declaration in respect of each load or a ‘season ticket’ arrangement similar to those for transfer notes under the existing Duty of Care regulations.

What does pre-treatment mean?

A treatment option must comply with the definition of treatment in the regulations. This involves a three-point test against which the proposed treatment option must be assessed. First, it must be a physical, thermal, chemical or biological process including sorting. Second, it must change the characteristics of the waste. Third, it must do so to reduce its volume, or reduce its hazardous nature, or facilitate its handling, or enhance its recovery.

What kind of treatment is acceptable?

The Environment Agency provide that: “the most common option for non-hazardous waste is physical separation (including source segregation), followed by recovery or further treatment of at least one of the separated materials”.

Compaction, placing the waste in a container or mixing the waste without any chemical changes is not acceptable treatment. Producers will need to continually review how they dispose of waste to take account of new treatment options.

Are there any exemptions to the waste pre-treatment requirements?

The regulations provide for very limited exceptions – either inert waste for which treatment is not technically feasible, or waste other than inert waste where treatment would not reduce its quantity or the hazards which it poses to human health or the environment.

How will local authorities be affected?

Local authorities are responsible for managing municipal solid waste and are subject to statutory targets for diverting MSW from landfill and recycling and composting targets. The EA assumes that the mechanisms already being used to meet these targets means that the MSW stream is already pre-treated. Thus, no extra action is required by LAs to meet the treatment requirement, but they will need to continue to develop and implement their MSW management strategies.

What about MSW that is collected by local authorities?

The EA provides that if a local authority is collecting trade waste as part of its MSW collection services, it will form part of the pre-treated MSW stream. Thus, trade waste collected by LAs as part of an overall service is regarded as treated, even if the trade component is separately collected.

The EA does not expect the legislation to lead to “fundamental changes in the market place”. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether producers will try to increase the amount of waste collected by local authorities in order to side step pre-treatment.

Are there any exemptions to the ban on liquid wastes?

No – as from now, no liquid wastes can be landfilled. The ban will not apply to solid waste that contains a small amount of liquid provided that the free-draining liquid does not exceed 250 litres or 10% of the load volume whichever is the lesser amount.

The ban does not apply to sludges which can continue to be landfilled. The EA provides that: “a waste that flows only slowly rather than immediately into an indentation in its surface (such as made by a stick or spatula) is sludge and therefore not banned”.

There are a number of treatment options for liquid wastes. These include: changing production methods so that liquid waste is not produced at all; biological treatment: thermal treatment; and discharge to the sewer or to sewage works.

What action will the Environment Agency take for non-compliance?

It will be a criminal offence for a landfill operator to accept untreated waste or liquid waste. The EA has stated that it will “implement these requirements in a fair and proportionate way … our focus will be on improving management systems and waste acceptance procedures across the sector rather than seeking out minor technical breaches at individual facilities”.

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