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Waste Matters

15 May 2007

The way waste is handled and disposed of has an impact on the way businesses approach waste management, and ultimately on customer and shareholder perception in an increasingly waste aware world. Kieron Colbert sets the scene

WASTE IS A CONSEQUENCE OF DEVELOPMENT in our ever-changing world and not a new problem. However, recent studies and changing legislation has put the spotlight on where our waste is heading.

The term ‘waste’ generally means any substance or object in the categories set out in Schedule 2B of The Environmental Protection Act 1990 which the holder of the waste discards or intends to, or is required to discard. Years ago, waste went to landfill or was incinerated and equipment such as printers were repaired. Today, technological developments, mass production coupled with population changes has inevitably increased the volumes and types of waste generated.

Much of our current legislation on waste derives from EU Directives. There are Directives in the EU under review or under consultation ranging from hazardous waste to marking plastics. In the UK however, Directives and legislative amendments are taking far too long to come to the fore – while the 3 per cent annual growth rate of landfill continues to rise. Many companies, particularly those in the media spotlight like banks and the motor industry, are now taking their environmental responsibilities to new levels.

Confidence in the recycling industry is growing with progress in many areas of the country including investment in new technologies, more recycling facilities and new methods for waste treatment. Food waste is a huge landfill problem with the associated methane and liquid ‘leachate’ production. By composting the waste and then using the compost you will be closing the recycling loop. Composting is attracting much interest from large organisations in the UK including oil companies and utilities industries. A Preston-based company is offering its expertise in this area and East London Community Recycling Partnership (ELCRP) is another in the South East.

Collected and reprocessing of recyclables can provide a ‘quality’ recycled material that uses less energy to produce therefore reducing CO2 emissions as opposed to using raw materials. Many items that are no longer useful in one office can be donated to charity groups or repaired and this is a great opportunity to invest within your community. Schemes to divert items such as textiles and shoes from landfill like London’s ‘Suit into Loot’ campaign is another example.

An initial waste audit is a good start to help maximise your recycling rates. Although many business have some provision for recycling, experience has shown that these waste streams can be poorly managed with a high percentage of contamination, resulting in disposal by landfill rather than the intended recycling. An audit of waste output can be used to produce a meaningful projection of what is achievable so that a manageable recycling scheme can be tailored to your requirements. This provides the most cost-effective solution and quantifies waste streams produced. It will highlight areas that are working and others that waste resources and cost you money. It will help you meet legislative requirements, encourage further environmental progress and tie in with your CSR campaigns so that your business is recognised in the wider community for its achievements.

Environmental reporting emphasises your compliance with legislation, and its commitment to waste reduction. They highlight strengths and provide feedback to improve your environmental credentials and keep ahead of your competitors. If you choose to use a specialist waste and recycling carrier that offers reporting, you’ll have the extra benefits of receiving all waste and recycling data on your office in a collated format, thus helping you set realistic recycling goals.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and The Duty of Care – Section 34 essentially cover the disposal of waste and applies to everyone who produces, imports, carries, treats or disposes of controlled wastes which includes all household, commercial and industrial wastes liquid or solid. The Duty of Care stipulates that:
● Waste must be handled, recovered or disposed of responsibly
● Waste is dealt with by a company that is authorised to do so

A record is kept of allwastes received and transferred by a system of signed notes. The ‘producer’ should keep these signed ‘Waste Transfer Notes’ for two years. If the waste is ‘hazardous’ a different note called a ‘Consignment Note’ should be retained for 3 years Landfill Tax: The Landfill Directive is helping to change the way we manage waste. The main changes that effect businesses include:
● Hazardous and non-hazardous waste cannot be disposed of together
● Hazardous waste must meet strict conditions before it is landfilled
● Liquid wastes are banned from landfill (non hazardous from 30 October 2007)
● Waste must be treated before it can be landfilled (non hazardous from 30 October 2007)

By segregation of recyclables either at the office in separate labelled containers or by your waste management provider as a mixed collection you can reduce your landfill use.

Producer Responsibility Obligations arise from the Packaging Waste Regulations 1997 (amended). Your business must divert this type of waste from landfill if it handles 50 tonnes of packaging waste or more per annum or has a financial turnover of more than £2m per annum.Register your company with The Environment Agency and ensure compliance.

WEEE Directive: The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) Directive is by far the most widely publicised piece of legislation as WEEE is fastest growing waste stream in the UK with an estimated volume of 2m tonnes per year. Volumes for business WEEE in London alone are estimated to be around 100,000 tonnes.

You need to arrange and pay for its transfer if:
● You are discarding WEEE which was purchased before 13th August 2005, (historic WEEE) and are not replacing it with equivalent EEE (electrical and electronic equipment products).
● You are unable to trace the producer or their compliance scheme.
● You are purchasing EEE and you choose, through negotiation with the producer to accept future costs for the treatment and disposal of it.

There is no precise duty to do this in these regulations, but these will currently fall under Duty of Care requirements. The Government has issued a consultation paper for England and Wales looking at reviewing the Duty of Care.The consultation is looking at how the current systems can be improved to reduce the opportunities for waste crimes. The Duty of Care review includes new proposals covering the handling of non-household WEEE. Guidance is to be issued soon regarding business waste commonly found in the consumer waste stream under WEEE law.

Hazardous Waste (HW): Some of these wastes are serious and have an immediate impact on population and the environment. Others such as Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT’s) found in TV’s or fluorescent tubes pose a threat, and others have a delayed but long-term impact on the environment. It’s advisable to register with the Environmental Agency as soon as you have HW to dispose of, even if you have yet to reach the 200kg limit for registration.

LCD’s are fast replace CRT’s. They are less bulky and use less energy but are the fastest growing waste stream in the UK and have between 15-20 compounds of varying value. A three-year investment project – part funded by the DTI is underway looking at ways to manage and cleanly recycle LCD waste. The RoHS – Regulations and Restriction of Hazardous Substances - regulations will also apply if the equipment contains, lead, mercury, cadium etc.

The Batteries Directive must be transposed into national law by 26 September 2008. The Directive seeks to improve the environmental performance of batteries and accumulators and of the activities of all economic operators involved in the life cycle of batteries and accumulators, e.g. producers, distributors and end users. The aim of the Directive is consistent with the objectives outlined in the Government's Waste and Sustainable Development Strategies.

Treatment of waste: In the next 6 months it has been announced that there will be a new threepoint test to apply to waste. It relates to the treatment of waste, which will in turn change its characteristics thus reducing the volumes, hazard, ease of handling whilst enhancing opportunities for recovery.

Good practice
Think about the potential for repair before you replace it and think – is it really vital to have a replacement anyway? Look at the whole-life costing rather than the lowest capital cost. Lower grade specifications and green purchasing should be considered as well as the amount of packaging used.

Government participation and promotion in recycling must lead the way whilst making the different legislative requirements easier to digest and quicker to implement. We need to make it clear that waste is a potential resource and offer easy and effective ways to recycle on a local and national level. Remember that, one businesses’ waste could also become another’s useful byproduct. Commercial waste management companies offer many opportunities and effective tools to start realistic schemes and will help you meet legislative requirements and encourage waste reduction.

A number of county and district councils across the U.K provide business users with some recycling services but local authorities are mainly concentrating on their residential areas to meet targets. However, there are councils that are working hard to change their business strategy for recycling.

If there is no provision for recycling by your LA you will find that they will be happy to help you find a local waste management company or search sites like ( Be sure your chosen company is a registered carrier of waste and has a policy to offer reporting and transparency in their practices for recycling waste.
● Kieron Colbert is managing director of London Recycling Limited
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