Disposal of waste

The following article is from "First Voice" magazine issued by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) April 2004.

Changes in legislation mean that disposing of hazardous waste is going to become more difficult - and more expensive

Disposing of waste is easy, isn't it? You hire a skip, fill it up and pay someone to take it away. The process is cheap, easy and no one needs to worry about it much. Well, it has been up until now. According to almost everyone who knows anything about the subject, waste is about to become very much more difficult and expensive to deal with. Due to a series of regulations and taxes coming into force over the next year: it will no longer be possible to put certain everyday items into the skip; it will be almost impossible to pay someone to pick up the skip; and you'll probably have to travel to another county in order to dispose of the waste. That disposal could cost you more than twice what you currently pay. As Steve Lee, chief executive officer of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, puts it: 'If you're not already sweating over increased costs and more complex compliance with the law, you soon will be.'

The changes

All businesses have had waste obligations for years. 'Duty of Care' regulations have been in place since 1992, the Packaging Producer Responsibility has been in place since 1997, and hazardous 'special' wastes have been tightly controlled since 1972. However, two directives and one tax coming into force in the next year will make these obligations more costly - and challenging - than ever before.

The Landfill Directive was agreed in 1999. It is designed to reduce the environmental impact of landfill sites. Landfill is the cheapest and most popular method of waste disposal in the UK, and has continued to be so despite the banning of liquids from landfill in 2002, and then tyres in 2003. In July 2004 it will become illegal to co-dispose of hazardous waste and normal waste in a landfill site. This will have an almost instantaneous and dramatic effect. Currently, hazardous waste can be co-disposed of at around 250 landfill sites. By 2005 this is expected to fall to 11. There will be none in Wales and very few around London.

The effects of the Hazardous Waste Directive will be concurrent with this. It will bring roughly 200 more types of waste into the definition of 'hazardous'. It is likely that items such as computer monitors, televisions, and fluorescent tubes will be classified as hazardous, and so become subject to tighter controls. So, at the same time as the number of places where businesses can dispose of hazardous waste plummets, the amount of hazardous waste that businesses need to dispose of, rockets. Increased demand and decreased supply can lead to only one thing: increased prices.

Landfill in the UK currently costs £10 to £20 per tonne, plus tax of £13 per tonne. Some believe that the effect of these changes could see costs getting closer to those in Ireland, where businesses pay £100 per tonne. On top of this will be increased transport costs, particularly for businesses in Wales or around London. On top of all this, the Chancellor has decided it is a good time to start increasing landfill tax. The initial increase will be £3 per tonne but the medium term plan is to double it. Added to these direct costs will be increased administration costs, as between 1 million and 1.5 million businesses are required to register under the Hazardous Waste Directive. In the words of Lee: 'Waste has always been a forgotten issue in the UK. That is no longer feasible, and what's more, this will affect every business, from Findus through to the chip shop.'

Those are the major changes due in the next year or so but, beyond that, there is much more legislation in the pipeline. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Directive will become law in August 2004 and start biting one year later. It sets minimum levels for collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of WEEE and imposes a producer responsibility. The maker or seller will have to take the product back at the end of its life and ensure that it is recycled at no cost to the end-user. This directive encompasses household appliances, ICT equipment, toys, tools, leisure goods, even musical birthday cards.

The End of Life Vehicles Directive and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive are likely to impose further obligations and costs in the next three to five years.


Not surprisingly, these regulatory changes have come in for a considerable amount of criticism. Peter Jones, director of waste management company, BIFFA, is a vociferous critic: 'It's incredible that household waste has been exempted. Surely if something is hazardous, it's hazardous whether it's in a domestic or commercial setting? If you're running a small business and you're presented with the option of either difficult and expensive disposal or simply taking it home and putting it in your bin there, which one would you choose?'

According to Andy Howarth at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, however, it will not be quite so easy to break the law in this way: 'There will certainly be a role for regulators in ensuring compliance in this area, and I've every confidence that this will happen. Also, companies will be required to register, and so regulators will quickly pick up on it if a company is producing less hazardous waste than would be expected.'

lan Kinniburgh, managing director of waste management firm, 60 North Recycling, believes that the introduction of these rules is being mismanaged: 'The problem is that we know roughly what's coming, but we're not sure how it'll be implemented. There is no specific guidance in certain key areas, and this makes it impossible to invest in preparation. It always seems to happen with EU regulation. We had it with fridges and we'll have it with hazardous waste.

'The Government must either invest itself, or create the climate of certainty within which businesses will be comfortable investing.' His view is shared by many in the sector.

Howarth has more sympathy with this point: 'The Government recognises the need for early clarity and is keen to give business as much time as possible to prepare for these new regulations. We will give at least a three-month lead-in, and if anyone thinks that is too little, then I would urge them to come forward, perhaps through representative bodies like the FSB, and tell us how long is needed.'

The greatest problem, however, is that very few businesses are aware of these regulations, let alone engaged sufficiently to share their views with DEFRA. The Environment Agency recently conducted a survey to find out how many business people were aware of their Duty of Care obligations. Despite the laws having been in effect for more than a decade and being applicable to every business, only 20 per cent had even heard of them. The figure is likely to be even lower for these new regulations.

So, if you've got this far through an article on waste management, congratulations - you are almost certainly some way ahead of your competitors in terms of understanding an issue that will have a major effect on your business in the next few months. DEFRA, the DTI and the Environment Agency all plan to raise business awareness of these regulations, but the likelihood is that most businesses will remain in the dark and will, at best, be unpleasantly surprised by the steeply-escalating cost of waste disposal. You, on the other hand, can start planning now and taking advantage of the help that is available.

Sources of help

The first port of call for many will be the Internet. Both http://www.envirowise.org and

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/netregs contain a wealth of information on waste management regulations, and how to comply with them. Much of the information is targeted specifically at small businesses. Beyond that, site visits from Envirowise and the Environment Agency may be sources of guidance.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management is running two schemes designed to help businesses cope with these changes. The first is a Waste Producers' Day in Torquay on 16 June. It is a free conference and seminar day, and will aim to provide up-to-date information on the challenges and how best to cope with them. A DTI Minister, the Chair of the Environment Agency, legal experts and Envirowise advisers will all be present. The second initiative is a Waste Awareness Certificate. This one-day course has been designed to provide employees with the knowledge and skills required to ensure responsible waste management.

Help yourself

John Holbrow, the FSB Environment Chairman, has been heavily engaged on this issue, attempting to get greater clarity from the Government and trying to raise awareness of the issues among FSB members. He is, however, clear that small businesses must act themselves to minimise the potential impact of these regulations: 'Every company must prepare itself. Use web resources, talk to industry bodies, and discuss it with your waste management company. This issue will have a significant effect on your business. Every small business owner has a responsibility to ensure that he or she is properly prepared.'

Updated May 28, 2004

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