Environmental Protection: Waste Management

Environmental Protection Act 1990

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 defines the notions of pollution of the environment.

What is meant by the environment?

The term environment is said to consist of all, or any, of the following media, namely, the air, water and land; and the medium of air includes the air within buildings and the air within other natural or man-made structures above or below ground.

Pollution of the environment

This is defined as follows:

“pollution of the environment due to the release (into any environmental medium) from any process of substances which are capable of causing harm to man or any other living organisms supported by the environment.”

Therefore in order to prove pollution of the environment under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 we need to show that harm has been caused from a process being released.

Harm

This is defined as follows:

“harm to the health of living organisms or other interference with the ecological systems of which they form part and, in the case of man, includes offence caused to any of his senses or harm to his property.”

Process

Process is defined as follows:

“meaning any activities carried on in Great Britain, whether on premises or by means of mobile plant, which are capable of causing pollution of the environment.”

Release

A substance is said to be released into any environmental medium whenever it is released directly into that medium whether it is released into it within or outside Great Britain.

It is said to occur in the following three scenarios:

  1. In relation to air – any emission of the substance into the air
  2. In relation to water – any entry (including any discharge) of the substance into water
  3. In relation to land – any deposit, keeping or disposal of the substance in or on land

Subjects covered by the Act

Examples of the environmental protection offered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 are as follows:

  • Waste management
  • Noise pollution
  • Neighbourhood pollution
  • Radioactive substances
  • Genetically Modified organisms
  • Nature Conservation
  • Waste Management

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that environmental pollution in relation to waste occurs from a release occurring in the following scenarios:

  • From the land on which controlled waste is treated
  • From the land on which controlled waste is kept
  • From the land in or on which controlled waste is deposited
  • From a fixed plant by means of which controlled waste is treated, kept or disposed of

Duty of Care

The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 introduced a duty of care into the legislation which provides that anyone who imports, produces, carries, treats or disposes of waste is subject to a duty of care to ensure that they take all reasonable and practicable measures to do the following:

  • To prevent another person illegally treating, keeping, depositing or otherwise disposing of waste.

  • To prevent the escape of waste.

  • To  ensure that transfer of the waste only occurs to an “authorised person” and that the transfer is accompanied by a written description of the waste

This duty of care is taken to mean that waste has to be provided to an individual or a body who is authorised to take it away and transferred through a process that will result in the proper dismissal of the waste.

The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations have been subsequently amended in 2003 and 2005 respectively to allow waste collection authorities in addition to the environmental protection agencies to check whether businesses were adhering to the duty of care and to bring individual members of the public as well as business under the duty of care.

Waste deposited in Landfill Sites

The Landfill (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 has introduced a distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous waste in relation to landfill sites and has introduced further controls concerned with monitoring of landfill sites and also the standards of engineering located on these sites.

An example of the constant change in policy is in relation to liquid wastes which have now been banned from landfill sites since 2007.

Another example of the constant shift in policy is the requirement that non-hazardous waste must be treated before going to the landfill sites. An example of the so called treatment is sorting the waste in accordance with specific guidelines provided to the sites.

Regulations in Relation to Businesses

There are certain standards and requirements placed on business in order to deal with their waste through specific regulations. Examples of this are as follows:         

  • Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007

  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006 

Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007

Businesses with an annual turnover of more than £2 million and who handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging material will be required to:           

  • Register with the Environment Agency or alternatively with a compliance scheme

  • Recover specified tonnages of packaging – this will be dependant upon the activities which the business performs

  • Certify that their obligations have been met.  

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006 

Under these regulations the companies who produce this kind of equipment must run a take-back scheme whereby customers are able to take back equivalent goods once they have purchased the new goods. Alternatively they can join a compliance scheme which avoids the company having to take back the product and provides information to consumers as to where they can take the product themselves.  

A good example of this is in the manufacture of fridges.

Is there any further legislation which applies directly to me?

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 provides for the following scenarios:

  • On-the-spot fines for people who leave domestic waste out at the wrong times – up to £100

  • Fines for businesses that are not registered to carry waste – up to £300

  • Fines for businesses who fail to produce required waste duty of care documentation – up to £300

  • The power to order landowners to remove waste that has been fly-tipped onto their land if they knowingly caused or knowingly permitted the fly-tipping