New waste legislation coming in to force in the New Year requires the separate collection of waste paper, metal, plastic and glass. Alex Mirkovic looks at the forthcoming law and its implications for FMs.
28 November 2014
The revised EU Waste Framework Directive 2008 requires that from 1 January 2015, member states make arrangements for the collection of waste paper, metal, plastic and glass separately where 'technically, environmentally and economically practicable' and 'appropriate to meet the necessary quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors'.
One of the aims of the directive, which is transposed into UK law in the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (and amended in the Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012), is to promote high-quality recycling. The regulations cover commercial and industrial waste as well as domestic waste.
In Scotland, businesses have been legally required to separate these materials for collection since 1 January 2014.
Commingled v single source collections
When transposing this directive into UK law, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) initially determined that 'separate collections' included commingled collections. The Campaign for Real Recycling took legal action and a judicial review, held in February 2013, ruled that Defra's 2012 regulations were correct, and that commingled collections were acceptable under the requirements of the directive where separate collection was not technically, economically or environmentally practicable (TEEP).
Since this decision, debate has continued over the conditions under which commingled collections may be permissible after 2015. Significant emphasis has been placed on the terms 'technically, environmentally and economically practicable' and 'appropriate to meet the necessary quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors'.
What FMs need to consider
There has been no statutory guidance on how the new legislation should be interpreted, which is causing a lot of confusion for waste collectors and producers. Furthermore, the focus of the non-statutory guidance published by government bodies and media coverage of the new legislation has been on household waste collections.
The Environmental Services Association (ESA) appears to be the sole voice on the implications for businesses, stating in a note to its members that 'commercial waste service providers should offer separate collection to their business customers and provide it for those of them who want it and for whom it is a practical proposition'.
While the ESA's emphasis, by nature of its role in the waste industry, is on the waste collectors, WCRS believes that FMs will need to consider the following to ensure that they are compliant with the new legislation:
1. Maintain an audit trail: Keep a well-documented audit trail when deciding which collection system to use and hold regular reviews to ensure that your waste management system remains compliant.
2. Separate paper, metal, plastic and glass from general waste: Separate mixed dry recyclables (paper, metal, plastic, glass) from general waste before their collection unless space for containers, cost of collection or any other genuine barriers prevent this.
3. Consider the TEEP test and provide evidence for your decision: If it is not technically, environmentally and economically practicable to do this, implement the most suitable alternative solution and ensure that you have evidence as to why a separate collection is not practicable.
4. Review commingled collections, particularly those that include glass: If you already separate your recyclables in a commingled collection, review the suitability of this and the capability of your waste contractor to separate these materials so that they are 'appropriate to meet the necessary quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors'. The commingled collection of paper and glass is unlikely to meet the new requirements.
5. Ensure the quality of your recyclables: Whether you have commingled collections or separate individual collections for paper, plastic, metal and glass, ensure that the quality of these recyclables separated for collection is of a high standard and not contaminated with non-recyclable waste.
6. Implement the waste hierarchy: It is already a legal requirement for all waste producers to treat waste in line with the waste hierarchy. Once reduction and reuse have been considered, ensure that your recyclable materials are recycled where possible above recovery or landfill.
The new legislation presents a challenge to waste collectors and producers alike. Ultimately, decisions on which collection system to use need to be made by FMs and their service providers based on their individual circumstances and in line with the principle of proportionality.
By reviewing waste practices, considering TEEP and quality tests, and retaining a clear audit trail to justify any decisions made, FMs can be confident that the new legislation won't be the cause of your headache on 1 January 2015.
Note: This article does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for legal or other professional advice.
Alex Mirkovic, commercial director of Waste Cost Reduction Services (WCRS), a national recycling and waste management broker, and committee member of the BIFM Sustainability SIG