Managing director of Alpha Waste Solutions, Peter Vernon, talks through the new obligations of UK industry when it comes to waste disposal regulations.

With over 45 million tonnes of waste being generated each year by UK industry, it is no surprise that the disposal of this waste is a major concern for the government and local authorities.

This waste causes damage to the environment and costs the businesses involved money. Therefore, new amendments to the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 came into force at the end of September. The result is that organisations now have to adhere to a new ‘waste hierarchy’ before disposing of their waste.

Getting your priorities right

The hierarchy sets out, in order of priority, the options for managing waste that should be considered prior to disposal. In order of priority, these are preventing waste, preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery such as energy recovery and last of all, disposal, for example by landfill.

Under the regulations, businesses have to document in writing that they have applied the waste hierarchy when transferring their waste through a declaration on waste transfer/consignment notes. When waste is passed on, the waste producer will need to declare that they have applied the waste management hierarchy.

Companies will also be asked to keep records of all this activity for inspection by the Environment Agency. If a business’s waste management decisions fail to comply with the waste hierarchy, they will be asked to justify them or face possible prosecution.

A guiding light

Guidance is offered by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and explains that there is a legal duty on businesses that produce or handle waste to ‘take all such measures as are reasonable in the circumstances to apply the waste hierarchy to prevent waste and to apply the hierarchy as a priority order when you transfer waste to another person’.

Sending waste to landfill is becoming increasingly expensive and as such, recycling improvements are on the increase in the UK. Indeed, businesses in the UK now recycle or reuse around 50% of commercial and industrial waste. However, while this is good news and a clear indication that progress is being made, there is still a huge amount of work to be done and the UK still has some way to go to catch up with our European neighbours.

Keeping up with the neighbours

Germany is way out in front at the moment. State recycling targets of around 54% are routinely met, and the introduction of a number of innovative national and local initiatives has seen a vast improvement in the reduction of general waste throughout the country.

Germany’s ‘Green Dot’ system has also been a hugely successful initiative that has seen manufacturers and retailers made to pay for a green dot on products – the more packaging there is, the higher the fee. This clever system has led to less paper, thinner glass and less metal being used, thus creating less rubbish to be recycled. The result has been a massive reduction of around one million tonnes of waste every year.

However, perhaps one key thing that has reduced the level of general waste is the proper sorting of material.  Authorities across Europe encourage more sorting at source, making it easier to separate out recyclable materials from general waste. Reducing sorting after collection is more efficient and helps to save money down the line.

The future

Under the Waste Regulations, from January 1st 2015, waste collectors must take practical measures to ensure separate collection of paper, metal, plastic and glass prior to it leaving site, and waste producers should consider measures they might need to take to ensure their waste can be collected separately, such as the installation of the right recycling products.

Of course manufacturers should be incentivised to produce less packaging (and indeed penalised when they don’t) and to make a higher percentage of the packaging that is used recyclable. If UK manufacturers applied Germany’s ‘Green Dot’ policy to its packaging it would perhaps lead to a massive reduction in the tonnes of waste we generate as a nation.

With the right investment in the right services and products at all levels in the chain (from manufacture, consumption, recovery and recycling) a larger reduction will be made in the amount of waste sent to landfill every year. Costs will be reduced and environmental damage lessened and it won’t be long before we catch up with the rest of Europe.

Alpha Waste Solutions

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