Environmental Protection: Waste Management

Environmental Protection Act 1990

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 1990), the term environment consists of the air, water and land. Air includes the air within buildings and the air within other natural or man-made structures above or below ground.

EPA 1990 defines pollution of the environment as:

‘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 to prove pollution of the environment under EPA 1990 we need to show that harm has been caused from a process being released.

Harm is defined as:

‘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 is defined as:

‘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.’

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 scenarios:

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

Subjects covered by EPA 1990

Environmental protection offered by EPA 1990 includes:

  • waste management;
  • noise pollution;
  • contaminated land;
  • litter;
  • statutory nuisances and clean air;
  • radioactive substances;
  • genetically modified organisms;
  • nature conservation.

EPA 1990 states that environmental pollution in relation to waste occurs from a release occurring from:

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

Under s 33 of EPA 1990, anyone who deposits or allows the deposit of controlled or extractive waste in or on any land must have an environmental permit authorising the deposit and the deposit can only be made in accordance with the licence. Anyone breaching this provision commits a criminal offence and can be jailed for up to five years.

Duty of care

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

  • prevent another person illegally treating, keeping, depositing or otherwise disposing of waste;
  • prevent the escape of waste;
  • 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 means 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 Regulations have been amended to allow waste collection authorities and environmental protection agencies to check whether businesses were adhering to the duty of care and to bring individual both members of the public and businesses under the duty of care.

Waste deposited in landfill sites

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

Examples of the constant change in policy include liquid wastes being banned from landfill sites since 2007 and the requirement that non-hazardous waste must be treated before going to the landfill sites. Waste must now be sorted in accordance with specific guidelines provided to the sites.

Regulations in relation to businesses

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

  • 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 £2m and who handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging material must:

  • register with the environment agency or with a compliance scheme;
  • recover specified tonnages of packaging – this will be dependent on the activities the business performs;
  • certify that their obligations have been met.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2006

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

Further legislation

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 allows for:

  • 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.
Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.