Waste management, disposal, and changes to UK legislation
And whilst topics such as gender-pay-gap reporting and freedom of movement are definitely getting their fair share of headlines, other less publicised areas such as EU waste management law are, for those it impacts, of equal importance (and concern)… namely because the majority of law in this particular arena has been transposed into domestic law in the UK by way of statutory instrument, which means that the relevant legislation will not be automatically or immediately affected by the UK’s exit from the EU, and the legislation will remain in place.
With that in mind, we’ve been speaking to Chris Sellars, Executive Director and business law expert at Banner Jones Solicitors, about what options there are for businesses operating within this arena that are faced with the enforced compliance by the Environmental Standards and, ultimately, the increase to the cost of running their business.
“The Circular Economy package, which sets out an agenda for the next 15 years providing targets, came into force , and is designed to move towards an economy in which valuable materials stay within the supply cycle for as long as possible,” explains Chris. “Including refining regulations and supporting voluntary initiatives in order to help the UK minimise or eliminate the uncontrolled dispersal of waste materials.
“In turn, the industry has become more stringent, with harsher fines, penalties and repercussions coming into play. Subsequently, here at Banner Jones we have definitely seen an increase in the number of waste management businesses that seeking advice with regards the pitfall.
“In addition the Landfill Directive - introduced under Gordon Brown in 1996 at just £7 per tonne, sought to decrease the environmental impacts of landfills and reduce the risk to human health while imposing a consistent minimum standard for landfills - has risen by £8 on average each year since 1996, reaching a staggering £86.10 in April of this year!”
Chris explains that in 2016 new targets were formulated which require that, by 2030, the entire EU, with the UK included, achieves a series of targets driven by an emphasis on reuse and recycle, including:
- 65% recycling of municipal waste
- 75% recycling of packaging waste
- Only 10% of waste sent to landfill
But with such high expectations, and no indication that the recent political upheaval will have any knock on effect on the legislation in place, what does the increase in the landfill directives mean for businesses who are involved in the waste management and disposal industry?
“Ever-increasing fines and compliances are enforced by the Environmental Standards Agencies to try to reduce the reliance on landfill as a disposal option. These include site infrastructure, staff training schemes and business-compliance standards which are all very costly to adhere to.
“For example, companies are required to have a waste management license which ensures that you must have a technically confident person who has undergone a risk assessment on site at all times, alongside limitations on the height of waste piles, and subsistence charges implemented if you fail to comply with these standards.
“Such compliance-standards and the increased expenditure to keep up with the site infrastructure improvements means that running a waste management business is simply too costly for many out there at the minute, and has led onto increased consumer prices – including the increased cost of hiring a skip.”
And whilst many waste management companies’ are forced to jump through the various hoops to ensure they are compliant, what hasn’t been enforced, according to Chris, is the ‘third-party accountability’ of the public who should be restricted in what they put in said skips.
“Without such measures,” explains Chris, “waste management businesses have become responsible for extensive sifting and sorting… which is another costly endeavour. So whilst the consumer only sees the cost of the average skip increasing, this is as a result of the cost of the equipment that the waste management companies have to invest in to comply with the Environmental Standards waste disposal polices.
“It is no secret that the Environmental Standards Agency has recently become much stricter on its definitions of what counts as landfill waste, and the knock on effect is that many are simply not prepared to run the risk of not checking!
“In monetary terms, for the waste management to dispose of artificial grass, for instance, which is 4kg per sq/m, they are charged extortionate prices for very little disposal amounts.
“Increasingly, business operating in the sector approach us to support on a number of issues, but one of the most common concerns is help identifying compliance-related risks before they materialise, appealing unreasonable compliance rating scores from the Environmental Standards - with the investigations from the early stages right through to completion - and subsequent help negotiating with the regulators. “
If you are a waste management business falling under the fire of increased pressure from the Environmental Agency and therefore, the government, our advice is to seek legal help. A business legal services lawyer can help you to decipher whether the figures are weighing up in your favour, and to help consider the ultimate question, which is whether to close the business, or to continue investing in what will become an even tighter controlled industry.
Chris Sellers is an Executive Director and Head of both the Residential Property and the Business Legal Services team. He specialises in company and commercial work. He advises a wide variety of clients ranging from those with small businesses to major companies. His work includes business sales and purchases, commercial agreements, and advice on directors’ duties. He also advises on Insolvency and partnership law including limited liability partnerships.