Waste exemptions are changing following a review by the Environment Agency. Whilst the regulator is still to publish details of its proposed changes the previous consultation has provided an insight into what the new exemptions regime may bring. The changes will impact operators who register waste exemptions which allow low risk activities without the need to obtain an environmental permit.
What is a waste exemption?
If you store, deposit, treat, recycle or dispose of waste on land you will normally need to obtain an environmental permit. Environmental permits contain detailed conditions on how you operate your site and deal with waste. Permits can be expensive to apply for and there are annual fees to pay. You may also require a technically competent person to manage the site who has specified qualifications. Applying for an environmental permit is complicated and the Environment Agency can take up to 6 months to determine the application.
Certain low risk, small scale waste activities can be undertaken without an environmental permit. These exempt activities will often require the operator to register the activity with the regulator, although there is no current application fee or annual charges – except for T11 waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) exemptions. This has been an area of contention for the Environment Agency for some years as without fees, the regulator does not receive any funding to inspect or regulate exempt waste activities.
Waste exemptions are grouped into four categories:
- Using waste (U1 to U16)
- Disposing of waste (D1 to D8)
- Treating waste (T1 to T33)
- Storing waste (S1 to S3)
Some waste exemptions do not need to be registered and these include:
- Temporary storage of waste at the place of production
Storing waste at the site where it was produced. Also carrying out limited treatments like compacting and baling to help with storage or collection, before it is taken away.
- Temporary storage of waste at a place controlled by the producer
Temporarily storing waste that you produced somewhere else, at a secure place that you control. For example, a builder who carries out work and takes the waste back to a skip at their main yard, which is collected when full.
- Temporary storage of waste at a collection point
Temporarily storing waste at a collection point before recovering or disposing of the waste elsewhere. This must not be a paid-for service or done by a waste collection business. An example of a collection point is a pharmacy collecting out-of-date medicines returned by patients.
A full list of the currently available exempt waste activities is on the Environment Agency’s website.
The Environment Agency plans to bring in changes by April 2024 at the earliest and a public consultation on the changes is expected to take place in the Autumn 2023 together with other proposed charges and fees. In preparation for the changes, the Environment Agency is writing to waste exemption operators encouraging them to deregister any exemptions which are no longer in use. Whilst the level of fees for exemptions has not be published, it is expected to be relatively small and cover a 3 year registration period.
Fees are likely to be based on the type of exempt activity, its risk and the level of regulation required. Higher risk activities will require higher levels of regulation and are expected to attract higher fees. Operators can expect to see more frequent visits by Environment Agency officers during the period of registration to ensure that the waste exemption rules are being complied with.
There is speculation the Environment Agency will remove the following exemptions:
Confirmation of the removal of the above exemptions is expected to be in the Autumn consultation document. A transitionary period is being proposed so that holders of the above exemptions will have 3 months to apply for an environmental permit if they wish to continue operating. The Environment Agency is still dealing with a backlog of permit applications following the pandemic and this move could increase the pressures further without additional resources.
It is expected that the Autumn consultation document will also include proposals to change the rules and requirements for the following waste exemptions:
If the proposed changes to the above exemptions result in operators having to apply for an environmental permit, a period of 6 months will be allowed for the application to be submitted.
What should you do now?
Operators of exempt waste activities should review their exemptions against the guidance on gov.uk before they are due for renewal and check if you really need them. The Environment Agency is aware that some exemptions are registered “just in case” or because the exemption holder has not realised they do not need an exemption just to store their own waste.
If you need to check what exemptions you currently hold then you can check this using the Environment Agency’s public register.
Exemptions on permit sites
Registered exemptions on a permitted site will be prohibited at the end of a 6 month transitional period. Permit operators who wish to carry on their exempt activity will need to apply to vary their environmental permit. “Direct link” means where an exempted waste activity:
- is carried on or next to a permitted waste operation or installation, and
- is carried out under the control of the same operator, or
- uses the same staff, equipment or infrastructure without which the exempt activity could not take place
A waste operator would not be able to extend their permitted waste wood treatment operations beyond their permitted boundary by registering a T6 (treating waste wood and waste plant matter by chipping, shredding, cutting or pulverising) exemption on an adjacent piece of land, as this would increase the overall fire risk and risk of pollution such as dust. There is a direct link between the permitted operations and the T6 exemption as the exempt waste activity would be carried on next to the permitted waste operation, under the control of the same operator using the same staff, equipment or infrastructure.
A farmer would be able to hold a permit for an anaerobic digestion facility on one part of their farm, together with a U1 (use of waste in construction) waste exemption to use waste to construct a farm track on another part of their farm. There is no direct link between the permitted operations and the U1 exemption as the farm track is not next to the permitted waste operation and the anaerobic digestion facility does not use the same equipment or infrastructure as the U1 waste exemption.
If operators wish to carry on their exempt activity at or next to their permitted site (where there is a direct link) they will need to apply to vary your environmental permit.
The change to waste exemptions will be significant and impact on thousands of waste operators across England. Many operators utilising a waste exemption will be required to cease the activity or apply for a new environmental permit, and this is likely to increase pressure on the Environment Agency permitting staff already struggling with backlogs from the COVID pandemic.
If you require environmental advice for your business, please contact one of our team.