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Landfill Lowdown

15 September 2007

From 30th October landfill sites will no longer accept ‘untreated’ waste and non-hazardous liquids. The latest phase of the Landfill Directive brings responsibility to organisations and FMs to pre-treat their waste and remove any recyclable waste at source, as Dr Nick Williams explains

ON 30 OCTOBER 2007 the next stage of the EU Landfill Directive comes into effect and will, for the first time, influence how general waste is managed at organisational level, as well as how it is treated by the waste industry. That’s because after this date, landfill sites will no longer be able to accept ‘untreated’ waste and, correspondingly, waste producers, will no longer be able to send untreated waste to landfill.

So, while we may previously have viewed the Landfill Directive as a matter for waste operators and local authorities, this new phase brings responsibility into organisations and businesses, and firmly under the wing of the FM.

While most businesses are probably familiar with Landfill Tax and its impact on the ballooning cost of waste disposal, the Landfill Directive remains a mystery to many. In simple terms, the Landfill Directive was developed by the EU to tackle Europe’s reliance on landfill as a waste disposal option, and so reduce its negative impact on the environment. The first part of the Directive came into force in July 2002 and a number of amendments have been introduced since, although these have predominantly affected waste disposal operators. Initially, the regulations were focused on improving the environmental safety of landfill sites, by excluding or controlling potentially hazardous waste types that might previously have been disposed of in this way, and so reducing potentially polluting emissions.

The new amendment now bans non-hazardous liquids from landfill (hazardous liquids are already banned) including, for example, edible oils and some paints, inks and adhesives. However, it is primarily aimed at tackling the sheer volume of general waste being sent to landfill, and encouraging businesses to “pretreat” their waste and remove any recyclable waste at source. This is designed to help the UK tackle the estimated 434 million tonnes of waste we currently produce every year, and help achieve our 2010 target of reducing the amount of biodegradable waste disposed of by landfill to 75 per cent of that in 1995.

The Government has adopted a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to managing the growing problem of waste. As well as legislative controls, it has also employed financial pressures to gradually shift waste producers away from landfill, a policy sometimes referred to as the ‘polluter pays’ principal. The Landfill Tax has
increased every year since its foundation in 2002 and currently stands at £24 per tonne. In his 2007 budget, the Chancellor announced that the escalator, the increment by which the tax is allowed to increase each year, will increase from £3 to £8, so that by 2010 the landfill tax will have doubled to £48 per tonne.

The message here is clear, landfill is set to become an increasingly expensive option, providing an extra incentive to encourage waste producers to comply with the new Landfill Directive, reduce the amount of waste they throw away and simultaneously make it more attractive for the waste industry to invest in new and less damaging waste treatment methods.

As a tactic, the Landfill Tax has already been successful in persuading many businesses to implement recycling and waste reduction schemes. Now the Government is really beginning to flex its legislative ‘stick’, to force companies to address the sustainability of their waste production levels.

The main mechanism of this regulatory shift is the Landfill Directive’s obligation to ‘treat’ waste prior to landfill. So what does treatment entail? The legal definition requires three things, otherwise known as the ‘three-point test’:

● Treatment must involve a physical, thermal, chemical or biological process (which can include sorting or segregating waste)
● Treatment must change the characteristics of the waste…
● …in such a way as to reduce its volume, or reduce its hazardous nature, or facilitate its handling or enhance its recovery.

Segregating cardboard boxes to be baled and then recycled fulfils these criteria, because the cardboard is being physically outsorted from the general waste stream for recycling. However, simply compacting general waste prior to landfill does not meet the requirement for pre-treatment because the actual quantity of waste going to landfill remains the same.

There is little doubt that in practice segregation is likely to be the most common form of treatment. In fact, under the amended Directive, organisations and businesses will have a legal obligation to ensure that “a reasonable amount” of the recyclable waste they produce is segregated and sent for recovery or recycling, rather than going to landfill.

There has never been a better time for FMs to review how their organisations manage waste. The first step in this process involves contacting the organisation’s waste disposal contractors, to find out if its waste is being sent to landfill. By now, most businesses should have been approached by their disposal contractors about identifying alternative disposal routes for liquid waste (preferably recovery or recycling). In the case of solid, ‘black-bag’ or trade waste however, the FM is faced with three basic choices:

● Treat waste on site: For most organisations, treating waste at source and on site will be the most cost-effective option, and it certainly puts organisations in good control of compliance. By segregating common waste streams such as paper, cardboard, metals or plastics for recycling, an organisation can both meet the requirements of the Landfill Directive and significantly reduce its bottom-line waste disposal costs.
● Employ a waste disposal operator to treat waste: If the practicalities of segregating waste at source are considered too complex or time consuming, external waste disposal contractors can pre-treat waste on an organisation’s behalf. Along with increases in Landfill Tax, however, this option is likely to increase the financial burden of trade waste disposal costs. The level of cost increase will depend upon the contractor and the type of waste produced.
● Do nothing: Organisations that don’t make adequate arrangements to pre-treat waste, whether on site or via contractors, will be operating in direct contravention of the requirements of the Landfill Directive. Their waste may be refused by Landfill sites and they could face fines for non-compliance. This is clearly not a realistic option for professional organisations, particularly those who are regularly audited as part of their ISO accreditation or site licensing permit.

Organisations producing waste already have a Duty of Care to ensure that they describe their waste properly and pass it to authorised persons only, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. From 30 October 2007, whenever they transfer waste to someone else, they should also tell them whether the waste has been treated or not. It is also good practice to fill out a written declaration and keep a copy, to maintain a clear and accurate audit trail.

Whether a business opts to segregate the waste at source or pay for an external contractor to do so, it must always ensure that waste is properly controlled and recorded. Only by retaining these records can it prove that it has fulfilled your obligations to the best of its ability.

Organisations opting to treat their waste on site, will be faced with the so-called ‘challenge of the first ten feet’, whereby their segregation systems will live or die by how successfully they engage the ongoing support and commitment of every single staff member - from the board of directors right through to (crucially) cleaning staff. Tell staff, clearly and simply, exactly how to play their part and why this is important, with reference to environmental messages, potential cost savings, recycling targets and even staff incentives. Update everyone, regularly, on how successful their efforts are proving to be. Implementing an effective waste minimisation and segregation policy is not an easy thing to do, but the rewards are now becoming much clearer to even the smallest businesses.

At the top of the oft-cited waste management hierarchy - Reduce, Re-use, Recycle - is waste avoidance or waste reduction. It is possible to significantly reduce the amount of waste produced by examining operational processes and identifying areas where waste is created unnecessarily. Purchasing policy is a good place to start, as buying in bulk will not only reduce the amount of packaging coming into the organisation, but also keep costs down. Office waste can be significantly reduced by switching printers and photocopiers to double-sided printing, for example, or introducing a standard email sign-off, reminding staff to question if they need to print them.

Simple steps like asking suppliers to deliver stock in re-usable crates rather than cardboard boxes can have a dramatic impact, as can printing on the back of ex-stock stationery, for internal communications. It is a good idea to appoint a Recycling Champion or Team to promote staff understanding and commitment and to manage it. You need to agree on what materials can be realistically and cost-effectively segregated and that you have a good recycling contractor who will take the waste types you’ve agreed on.

By scrutinising existing processes, identifying realistic goals and communicating them clearly and effectively to all staff members, it’s possible to run a successful waste segregation and recycling scheme that significantly reduces waste disposal costs.

More info :

● Dr. Nick Williams, Safety, Health & Environment Manager with the PHS Group plc

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