Construction might be ahead of the game, but with waste mired in a legal minefield, make sure you know what your obligations are
By Joe Griffiths, a partner in Manches
Since the early 1990s the whole area of waste has become more and more regulated. Almost anything that can be discarded can be classified as waste (dead pets, for example, are classified as “waste” and pet cemeteries are, to all intents and purposes, landfill sites). The amount of regulation over the next few years is only going to increase and the changes will affect business just as much as private individuals – the government recently introduced plans to put a slop bucket for food waste in every kitchen in the land to help generate more green electricity.
Thankfully the construction industry is slightly ahead of the game in terms of waste management, with something like 50% of construction waste already recycled or reused in some way (mainly from demolition). It is estimated that in England and Wales, construction uses about 400 million tonnes of solid material a year, but only two thirds of this finds its way into buildings. Some 13% of material delivered to site is not even used.
But what is the law governing waste? The starting point is to define it. Helpfully, the government has done this for us. Waste is “a substance or object which the producer or possessor of it discards, or intends to, or is required to discharge”. When looking at this it is useful to bear in mind the two main concepts that flow through it, namely, the “polluter pays” principle and the “waste hierarchy” principle. The polluter pays principle is straightforward – whoever produces the waste must pay for the cost of handling and disposing of it. The waste hierarchy principle grades various methods of dealing with waste as follows:
• Prevention (most favoured)
• Energy recovery (eg incineration)
• Disposal/landfill (least favoured).
The table opposite summarises the main legislation dealing with waste.
The amount of regulation over the next few years is only going to increase and the changes will affect business just as much as private individuals
Site waste management plans
The government is currently consulting on site waste management plans with a view to making them compulsory in 2008. These plans are designed to improve resource efficiency, waste minimisation and recycling within the construction sector,to reduce its impact on landfill and to reduce fly tipping. Anyone carrying out a construction project on a site with an estimated project value greater than £250,000 will have to produce a SWMP before works start. The plan must include the type of works proposed, a description of what sort of waste is likely, an estimate of its volume and how it will be dealt with (reusing, recycling or outright disposal).
The plan must be updated regularly during the works as waste is removed and, further, must be kept for a period of two years after completion. Projects worth more than £500,000 will have to include more detailed information:
- the identity of the waste management contractor removing the waste
- the waste carrier registration of the carrier, and
- a copy of or reference to the written description of the waste in accordance with section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Failure to comply with the regulations by, for example, failing to produce or update a SWMP, forging a SWMP or making false statements in a SWMP will be an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both.
• WRAP runs workshops on SWMPs to help organisations better understand the best practices available and highlight how SWMPs can be used to improve overall business performance and improve their bottom line. It also has a variety of resources online, including case studies of leading construction contractors that provide information on the full benefits of waste management.
For more information go to www.wrap.org.uk/construction.
The government is currently consulting on site waste management plans (SWMPs) with a view to making them compulsory in 2008. This is sure to help the industry deliver on WRAP’s challenge of halving construction site waste to landfill by 2012.
“Although SWMPs are a good thing for the environment, it is clear that construction as an industry is capable of going way beyond the minimum requirements,” says WRAP’s Mervyn Jones, programme manager for waste minimisation and management. “We hope that once contractors have got to grips with SWMPs, they will recognise the real value to their businesses that they can unlock.”
- Other, Size 0 kb