Waste of space

Bill Butterworth, a former lecturer in Work Study, keeps up the pressure on our regulators as he comes up with a practical answer to the eternal question 'When is a waste not a waste?'

There is an easy and logical answer to defining when waste is recovered and, consequently, when a waste is not a waste (an issue explored in some depth in previous editions of Environment Business – see July p16, for instance). We can do it now and it will work. What is more, there are signs that the Environment Agency, our Environment Agency (EA), is beginning to think about it.

It’s about time our regulators and courts stopped wasting enormous amounts of public money in a Lilliputian discussion about whether a substance is a waste or not – and, therefore, whether it’s subject to regulation. Who cares? It is irrelevant. Europe and Whitehall have lost themselves in a blind obsession with regulation, to the exclusion of basic principles. What matters is whether we can produce to survive and eat and do so responsibly and safely, i.e. without significant pollution or lack of sustainability.

Five easy pieces

Work Study is not a precise science like astro-physics or maths, but it is an established, accepted, academic discipline of repute. The discipline classifies all activity (human or in any process) into five areas: process; inspection; transport; delay; and, storage.

The key word in the context of waste is ‘inspection’. Logically, and within the law, if there is a ‘waste’ which is processed and is eventually used, then at some point it ceases to be a ‘waste’.

Currently, the EA only regards the material as ceasing to be waste when it is put to its final use. Heaven only knows where lies the logic of that, but it’s where we’ve been stuck for some time. However, the EA has begun to move, and the idea of a process that leads to a Standard is now becoming thinkable as ‘recovery’. Well, if we can achieve that, we might stay in business yet (and if we can stay in business, we may be able to afford to pay the salaries of our Agency staff, Defra staff and the judiciary – sorry, guys, but staying in business is relevant to paying licence fees and taxes).

As an example, let us take the issue of blood from slaughterhouses, which for centuries has been used on farms and in gardens as a fertiliser. However, as things stand, the EA will not allow it to be taken onto farm land as a fertiliser, even after heat treatment which satisfies the State Veterinary Service (a part of Defra); yet it can, after exactly the same treatment, be put in bags and sold in garden centres. So, let’s get this clear: it can’t be put in large bags and used by small numbers of professional farmers, but it can be put in small bags and sold to thousands of amateurs who can let their children play with it. Who is the incompetent, irresponsible idiot who sanctioned such a distinction?

Bloody idiocy

Clearly, one of those wastes has achieved some sort of standard. If one can do it, why not the other? Or is Defra only concerned with hitting soft targets? If both of these streams of blood can be treated to a standard that can be inspected, then we have a route to legal ‘recovery’. Don’t say it can’t be done, Defra! You have already sanctioned it for blood sold to garden centres.

So, if we have an ‘inspection’ for a Standard which leads to legitimate ‘recovery’ and an identified use, then consider this in respect to the definition of ‘waste’: if we have such a Standard for ‘recovery’, do we not also have a Standard for the definition of ‘waste’? If a material meets a Standard for use, then it is a raw material, bi-product or whatever label we choose to put on it. But it is not ‘waste’.

The lawyers will swoop at this point and, while possibly agreeing (we live in hope), point out that ‘when’ has not been answered and insist that it only stops being a waste when it is actually put to its intended end use. Perhaps they might consider this: it stops being a ‘waste’ when the processes used in ‘recovery’ are complete, i.e. the material ceases to go through any more physical, chemical or biological processing.

Back to basics

It all goes back to the five symbols of Work Study. ‘Inspection’ allows ‘process’ to be judged complete. ‘Storage’, ‘transport’ and ‘delay’ are not relevant in this making safe of materials. If the Agency is moving away (as it says it is) from prescriptive regulation to risk-based permissions, then surely safety is the guiding principle, not regulation for its own sake. We, the people, are all fed to the teeth with that.

Now, is all that too difficult for our regulators? If it is, maybe we should change our regulators.

We all approve of regulation. We are all actually proud of our Agency and our Defra. There is, however, something they can help with. We would mostly vote against Europe. We know we have to be there to trade and survive and we know all the advantages. What we do not want is to be over-regulated and spoken down to by people who are, no doubt, very bright, well educated, well-meaning people who think they know how to do it but have never actually done it.

Stop gunning for the good guys and, instead, attack the bad guys. We want policemen but we also want facilitators. We need an Agency backed by Defra in a partnership with industry to do the job and do it now before it is economically and environmentally too late. The duty to facilitate is just as much of a duty as the duty to police.

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