Dealing with emergency and one-off waste streams
Managing waste is a complex business. Facilities managers have to deal with any number of waste streams, from confidential documents to hazardous materials. But what about emergency and one-off waste streams?
There are several considerations organisations will need to take into account when dealing with waste that is out of the ordinary, such as:
- Legal responsibilities
- Maintaining business continuity
- Protecting employees
- Demonstrating the business is responsible.
Organisations have legal responsibilities to deal with waste as it arises. First, they need to ensure that they meet their waste Duty of Care obligations under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The duty of Care extends to all waste, but might need to be revisited when dealing with waste outside of the norm — such as when hiring skips or for one-off waste occurrences.
The health and safety of employees will also need to be considered under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA). This means that any waste streams that are potentially hazardous — for example, leaks of sewage waste — will need to be dealt with in a manner that does not put employees at risk.
An organisation will also need to ensure that it does not cause pollution from waste on its premises. In particular, this will apply to organisations storing waste under the Control of Major Accidents and Hazards Regulations 2015 or Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Particular attention should be given to these sites and what might happen should the premises be flooded.
However, even if an organisation is not covered by these regulations, they should still be aware of any pollution that might be caused by waste from their premises. Under the Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR), it is an offence for polluted water from a trade premises to enter a watercourse without consent. This applies regardless of whether or not the occurrence is unintentional and would include accidental pollution from water due to flooding or fire-fighting.
There are also responsibilities on organisations to keep land they occupy free of litter and refuse, and local authorities can oblige businesses to remove litter and dumped waste from their land. In practice, most businesses will want to keep their premises looking tidy, but these obligations should be taken into consideration when reviewing policies.
A review of legislation will also be needed when specialist waste needs to be discarded; for example, hazardous waste, asbestos and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). All of these waste streams will need to be disposed of in a certain way to meet legal requirements.
Furthermore, when dealing with one-off waste streams, consideration will need to be given to the waste hierarchy because waste needs to be pre-treated before sending to landfill.
Supporting business continuity
When a disaster happens, organisations will have a number of issues to deal with to ensure the welfare of employees, keep disruption to a minimum, and to resume operations as quickly as possible.
As part of continuity planning, strategies should also be formulated for dealing with emergency waste. One example would be from waste water — for example, water from flooding events or fire-fighting.
As discussed above, even the unintended pollution of the environment is an offence. If accused, the only defence is that the organisation has taken adequate measures to protect against the pollution. As such, it is critical that systems are in place to protect the environment and to clear up waste water as quickly as possible. No organisation would want to be fined for pollution — it can be costly both financially and in terms of reputational damage.
When dealing with emergencies that might impact on the environment, it is also important to link the business continuity plan with the organisation’s environmental management system.
If dealing with waste that has the potential to cause harm, employees will need to be protected. Some potential harmful wastes could include the following:
Sewage from blocked toilets or drains – Sewage contains bacteria and viruses, and can release toxic gases. It should not be dealt with by cleaning staff, but instead cleared up by a specialist contractor.
Asbestos – Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, asbestos will need to be dealt with in a certain way to reduce the risk of exposure. If asbestos is found as part of fly-tipped waste, certain precautions should be followed including excluding people from the area and attaching asbestos warning stickers. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn and the relevant authorities should be informed. If possible, the area should be secured until the waste is removed and area
Needles or other drug paraphernalia – If needles or other drug paraphernalia are found on site — either as litter or within a fly-tip — then these should be treated with great caution. The main risk associated with sharps such as needles and syringes is puncture wounds that could result in exposure to highly infectious blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Correct PPE should be used to remove drug paraphernalia, and it is recommended that they are removed and disposed of by a specialist contractor.
Businesses and organisations need to present a responsible image. Authenticity and transparency are becoming ever more important, and in the world of social media, word of how a business treats its employers, community and environment can quickly spread far and wide.
A business or organisation can help demonstrate its values through its actions. The way that a business deals with its waste is one area that can speak volumes. The way a business manages its premises is another.
The local authority can oblige businesses to keep their premises tidy and free of litter, but this should be a key part of any businesses strategy to show respect to local communities and to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility. To help ensure premises remain tidy, waste should be safely stored and should not be allowed to escape (in accordance with the organisation’s duty of care). This also applies to temporary or one-off waste storage solutions such as skips.
In most cases, fly-tipped waste is the responsibility of the occupier of the land to clear. As such, the removal of fly-tipped waste should be quick and, as fly-tipped waste can often include a number of hazards that are dangerous to public health, it should be done by a professional.
Wherever possible, a business could also look to improve its environmental credentials by increasing waste that is reused or recycled. One-off waste streams, such as those that occur during office refurbishment, can offer excellent opportunities for utilising the waste hierarchy. Examples include sending used carpets for reuse or recycling, or donating unwanted office furniture.
Although unglamorous, waste has the potential to cause significant disruption and/or harm to people and the environment. Organisations need to understand their legal requirements and adopt clear policies to integrate business continuity plans, environmental management systems and social and environmental principles. Doing this will help ensure that all waste — including waste that arises from an emergency — is properly dealt with and disposed of.