Environmental Permits for Waste Activities: Not a Load of Rubbish
Certain facilities that use, recycle, treat, store or dispose of waste or mining waste may require an Environmental Permit. If a waste operation is carried out without a permit when they should, or there is a breach in a permit conditions the Environment Agency (EA), Natural Resource Wales (NRW) and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) have the power to prosecute. This can result in a court order requiring the waste to be removed, a fine or imprisonment. Waste crimes cost the UK economy £568 million a year and divert as much as £1 billion each year away from legitimate business operations1.
To gain a permit the company would need to apply to the EA/NRW/SEPA. This would be required under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 20102 or The Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations 20113 and the Pollution Prevention & Control (Scotland) Regulations 20124. There are exemptions to waste activities which require an Environmental Permit and these can be found on the gov.uk website5.
On the 11th April 2016, London based waste company Powerday Plc was ordered to pay £1.2 million for historical waste offences. This related to two separate cases where 17,000 tonnes of waste was deposited and stored illegally. One of these offences was carried out at Willesden, London in 2010 and involved approximately 14,500 tonnes of hazardous waste (including asbestos). The company argued that they were legally entitled to store more than 10 tonnes of certain types of hazardous waste in accordance with its interpretation of the permit. However, the permit did not allow the company to store more than 10 tonnes of such hazardous wastes at any one time. The Environment Agency stated that illegal waste activity undermines other legitimately run businesses and puts the public and the environment at risk6.
Operating a waste site without a permit can lead to imprisonment. In March 2016 waste operator Mark Edward Fuller was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for running an illegal waste site in North Runcton, Norfolk. The court heard how he ran the illegal site for more than a year without planning permission and without an environmental permit to deposit, store, dispose and treat waste7.
Permits can also be revoked if there is persistent non-compliance. In December 2015, Metropolitan Waste Limited’s Environmental Permit was revoked due to years of non-compliance with the conditions of the permit and the company was deemed not competent to continue operation. Metropolitan Waste Management Limited was considered a poor performer since 2010 and was working with the EA to improve its compliance. Metropolitan Water Limited produced a list of actions and timescales to improve, however they did not complete their actions within the timescale and therefore their permit was revoked8.
Chris Hazelton, Environment Manager at the EA stated:
“Permit conditions are in place to reduce the risk of pollution and to protect the environment and people’s health. We will advise companies as much as possible but we will not hesitate to take swift and decisive action against anyone who persistently breaches permit conditions. We hope this action sends a clear message to all operators that we will, where appropriate, revoke environmental permits 8.”
These examples show the importance for all waste operators of understanding the permit they are operating with or whether a permit is needed. All businesses should take a look at their environmental compliance because the consequences of getting it wrong can be severe.
- Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2015, Tougher powers to tackle waste crime introduced. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tougher-powers-to-tackle-waste-crime-introduced
- The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/675/contents/made Accessed (7th June 2016)
- The Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations 2011. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/sdsi/2011/9780111012147/pdfs/sdsi_9780111012147_en.pdf Accessed (7th June 2016)
- The Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2012. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2012/360/regulation/44/made Accessed (7th June 2016)
- Environment Agency and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2016, Waste: environmental permits. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/waste-environmental-permits
- Environment Agency, 2016, Waste firm ordered to pay more than £1.2m for waste offences. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/waste-firm-ordered-to-pay-more-than-12m-for-waste-offences
- Environment Agency, 2016, Imprisonment for Norfolk illegal waste owner. Available at: (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/imprisonment-for-norfolk-illegal-waste-owner)
- Environment Agency, 2015, Metropolitan Waste Management Limited permit revoked. Available at: (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/metropolitan-waste-management-limited-permit-revoked)