Waste management laws your business should not be ignoring

When it comes to managing your waste as a business, there are things you could do and things that you must do. There are strict laws in the UK pertaining to how you dispose of your waste, and it is important that you understand what these are and how they affect your business to avoid some serious penalties and to protect the environment.

In this article, we look at the waste management laws that businesses in the UK must abide by, as well as examining what can happen if you fail to follow these rules. These include the permits that you need, as well as the restrictions on what waste you can dispose of and how you should do it.


Environment agency permits

The Environment Agency is a public body that is sponsored by the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). It is their responsibility to look after the protection and enhancement of the environment in England. Amongst other roles, they regulate major industries and waste and work with businesses to manage the use of resources and how they are disposed of. The Environment Agency can be a major help in working out what you need to do and are also responsible for a number of the permits that you might need.

If your business uses, recycles, treats, stores, or disposes of waste then you may need to apply for an environmental permit. There are a variety of permits that you might require, including a regulatory position statement, an exemption, a standard rules permit or a bespoke permit.

If you employ a waste carrier, they should have purchased an appropriate permit from the Environment Agency which allows them to transport your recyclables to other premises and dispose of them

safely and responsibly. You should ask to see this when you employ their services and ensure that it is kept up to date to make sure that you are dealing with a reputable company.

Each type of waste stream has its own Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and European Waste Catalogue (EXC) code. These will detail how your waste should be disposed of and your waste carrier should be able to advise you on this. They will also record and report how and where your business’ waste has been processed so that you know exactly what happens and that you are always working within the regulations.


Commercial recycling

There is a bigger drive than ever towards recycling, but many businesses still do not have a dedicated strategy for this. It is estimated that as much as 60% of the waste that goes to landfills could have been recycled, and every business will have at least one type of waste that they can recycle. Whether it is cardboard, paper, food, glass, metal, plastic or wood, there will be recycling options available to your business.

As a business, you have a legal responsibility to ensure that your recyclable waste is sorted, stored, and disposed of in the correct way. This is known as your Duty of Care and it requires you to separate your recycling into clearly labelled bins, store it in appropriately sized containers that are kept dry and secure, pass it on to a licensed waste carrier and complete a waste transfer note (WTN) whenever it is collected to outline what the material is so that it can be processed correctly and safely.


Breaking the rules

If it is suspected that you may have broken the rules regarding waste disposal, enforcement agencies have the power to question individuals under caution, and punishments can take the form of fines or even prison terms in some cases. It is thought that waste crime cost the English economy around £924 million in 2018/19, leaving local authorities to deal with 1.13 million individual fly-tipping incidents in that period.

Several businesses have recently been found to be shipping their plastic waste abroad to countries such as Turkey, Poland the Netherlands incorrectly, and as a result, they have breached UK export regulations. As much as 79% of the UK’s waste was exported to countries which are in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but in doing so, it needs to be properly labelled and reported. If your provider does this, you should also consider what happens to your waste when it reaches these countries, as many simply dump or burn it rather than dealing with it in the way that you might have hoped.

A crackdown on waste criminals is now also in full swing, which means that firms who move and trade waste are now subject to increased background checks. Waste will need to be managed by authorised persons only in a safe manner thanks to mandatory digital waste tracking so that the point at which it is disposed of is recorded. This has been brought in to try and detect and tackle illegal activity and waste crimes such as fly-tipping, dumping, illegal waste sites and illegal waste exports.

What can be done to prevent breaking the rules?

You need to remember that your waste is your problem, even when you involve waste management companies and carriers. You need to ensure that you work with businesses that dispose of your waste responsibly. This includes making sure that your waste carrier is licensed and by doing your due diligence when choosing who to work with. It is important to keep in mind that ignorance is not a defence when it comes to waste disposal, so doing your homework is vital. You can protect yourself and your business by collecting evidence of all that you have done to comply and keeping thorough records of each waste collection.

You should remember that it is your responsibility to make sure that you have taken all reasonable steps and precautions to confirm that your waste has been disposed of correctly. This means that there are no excuses for not conforming to the law, so make sure that your waste management strategy is treated with as much importance as anything else within your business.


Creating an Environmental policy can help you manage your business’ impact on the environment and ensure that you avoid environmentally harmful practices. For more information, read Environmental policies and remember that you can Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.


Sarah Vernau
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