Introduction to Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste policy
The underlying principles of waste policy are set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC. This incorporates provisions on hazardous waste that were previously included in a separate Hazardous Waste Directive. The EU Directive defines hazardous waste and delineates the criteria for classifying different hazardous properties. As with all wastes, hazardous waste should be managed in a way that does not cause damage to the environment or harm to human health.
Moving hazardous waste up the hierarchy
Fundamental to EU and UK waste policy is the concept of the waste hierarchy: with waste prevention the preferred option, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery like energy recovery and disposal the option of last resort.
Through legislation such as the producer-responsibility regimes for packaging, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and electrical and electronic equipment, the Government is seeking to divert waste from landfill and promote reuse, recovery and recycling. Waste producers now have a statutory duty under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 to state that they have taken the waste hierarchy into account when selecting a treatment or disposal option. A declaration to this effect must be incorporated onto the waste duty of care consignment note that accompanies every consignment of hazardous waste.
For most non-hazardous wastes, it is normally possible to find a cost-effective means of recycling or recovery in place of disposal, but for hazardous wastes, fewer options may be available. It may not always be possible to move hazardous waste up the hierarchy, and instead the “Best Overall Environmental Option” must be sought. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has devised a series of decision trees for different categories of hazardous waste included in the national hazardous waste strategy.
For certain hazardous wastes, disposal may be the only option, e.g. asbestos must be disposed of in a specialised landfill site, and certain toxic and persistent organic chemical wastes such as PCBs (polychorinated biphenyls) must be destroyed by high temperature incineration. This is also the only acceptable option for specified hazardous healthcare wastes, e.g. infected sharps or chemotherapy medicines.
National hazardous waste strategy
Defra’s hazardous waste strategy was published in March 2010, as part of the UK implementation of the Waste Framework Directive. It reports that over 6.6 million tonnes of hazardous wastes were sent for disposal and recovery in England and Wales in 2008, an increase of 3% from the previous year. Why is this the case? Ironically, the increase is partly due to the effectiveness of producer responsibility legislation, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 (WEEE). Waste producers are assiduously separating out hazardous items such as computer monitors from the general waste stream in order to comply with their new statutory duties.
While legislation such as the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations (RoHS) has rendered many products less hazardous, it is not possible to design out hazardous substances from all electronic items. Flat screens from TVs and computers are a rapidly growing and problematic constituent of the hazardous waste stream. While RoHS seeks to ban the use of mercury, a more recent EU Regulation (1102/2008), forbids the recycling and reuse of this metal, so larger quantities now require disposal.
Energy-from-waste plants produce air pollution control (APC) residues – hazardous wastes that have proved difficult to treat and dispose of in accordance with the specifications of EU legislation – and the amount of these is set to increase as additional waste is diverted from landfill to energy recovery. Finally, construction and demolition projects such as the Olympics site generated large quantities of contaminated soils that still go predominantly to landfill.
The need for new infrastructure
As part of the hazardous waste strategy, Defra identifies types of hazardous waste treatment facility for which there is a current or predicted shortfall in capacity. These are treatment facilities for APC residues and flat screen monitors; plant for the washing and bio-remediation of contaminated soils; disposal facilities for mercury; additional infrastructure for the treatment of WEEE; recycling of NiCd and lithium batteries; thermal desorption of oily sludges and filter cakes; oil regeneration; and processing of insulation foams containing ozone depleting substances.
The Government will seek to encourage the development of these facilities, e.g. through the planning system.
Scope of hazardous waste regulation
Waste duty of care
Most hazardous wastes fall within the scope of controlled waste regulations. Controlled waste is defined as household, commercial and industrial waste, including non-natural wastes from agriculture and mining. It excludes animal byproducts, radioactive waste, gaseous emissions and liquid effluents, which are regulated under separate legislation. All controlled waste is subject to the general Waste Duty of Care, which places a responsibility on waste holders to ensure that their waste does not cause harm to human health or the environment, even once it is outside their control. Producers of hazardous waste must take particular care to ensure that their waste is treated or disposed of at a site that holds an appropriate environmental permit for hazardous waste.
Hazardous Waste Regulations
The statutory definition of hazardous waste is found in the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005. In essence, a hazardous waste is one that is marked with an asterisk on the European Waste Catalogue, a comprehensive list of waste streams drawn up by the European Commission. Waste will only be hazardous if it possesses one of 15 hazardous properties.
Anyone producing more than 500kg per annum of hazardous waste must notify the Environment Agency or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Shipments of hazardous waste must be accompanied by a hazardous waste consignment note.
Wastes comprising of, or containing, hazardous chemicals are subject to the same health and safety legislation as any other hazardous substances. This includes the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and fire safety legislation.
Where hazardous waste is transported by road, the Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR) (the EU regulation on the transport of dangerous goods by road) may apply.
All wastes, whether hazardous or not, may only be transported by a carrier registered with the Environment Agency or SEPA. If a vehicle carrying hazardous waste is involved in an accident and pollution of land or water results, this could well qualify as “environmental damage” under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2009.