The rules around classifying hazardous waste are changing, are you up to date?

Written by: Paul Tilley | Published:
Companies that are producing, transporting, keeping, processing, controlling, using or disposing of excavated waste from unplanned utilities installation or repair works will now be required to classify their waste, regardless of volum

Excavated waste from unplanned utilities works is now classed hazardous until proven otherwise.

On 31 January, the Environment Agency (EA) withdrew Regulatory Position Statement (RPS)211, which will impact the way excavated waste from unplanned utilities installation and repair works s treated and disposed of.

Up until now, under RPS 211and providing other conditions were met,small volumes of waste (up to 10m3) produced as a result of these works weredisposed of as non-hazardous by default, without the classification to prove it.

Waste volumes of this size mean that RPS 211 typically applied to businesses digging small pits or trenches for emergency utilities works, such as fixing burst mains or sewers.

Why the change?

The position statement was always intended to be temporary and was designed to give time for operators to set up a suitable system. It is possible that the withdrawal is part of an EA drive to reduce the inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal handling and disposal of a range of waste types.

Because each site will only produce a small volume of waste, it is plausible that some operators could have been taking material to a central location for storage before disposing the combined load. In doing so, the evidence to state that the compiled waste is within the volume limit and source site restrictions of the RPS 211 is difficult to trace. Waste will now be classified as hazardous by default – as opposed to non-hazardous – which will discourage the potential incorporation of waste soil from other sources into loads from utility excavations.

What are the consequences of this withdrawal?

Companies that are producing, transporting, keeping, processing, controlling, using or disposing of excavated waste from unplanned utilities installation or repair works will now be required to classify their waste, regardless of volume.

Hazardous waste attracts higher gate fees for disposal, and two different tax rates are associated with disposal to landfill, with hazardous waste currently costing £88.95 per tonne and non-hazardous usually costing significantly less, at £2.80 per tonne.

The tax element alone for disposal of 10m3(approximately 18 tonnes) of hazardous waste is around £1,600, which is a dramatic increase from an average £50 of disposal costs to a non-hazardous landfill. Even when you take into account the fees for an environmental consultancy to test and produce a report on this volume of waste, a company would be saving around £500 per 10m3load by following best practice, assuming the testing proves the waste is non-hazardous.

There is an obvious cost benefit to following best practice, but could non-compliant companies be penalised in other ways? Damage to reputation if they are found to be dealing with waste incorrectly is a serious consideration. If a utility company employs a contractor to carry out works, they are part of the chain of responsibility and should be doing their own due diligence to ensure their chosen contractor is dealing with the resulting waste properly.

If the utility company isn’t satisfied that best practice is being followed, that contractor is unlikely to win future work. If they are caught misclassifying waste, there is also potential for prosecution. If waste is assumed to be of hazardous classification, there are limitations on the transport and storage of hazardous waste that must also be considered and complied with.

Landfill site operators will now be required to ask more questions about the material being disposed of at their sites. If the material turns up and it’s said to be non-hazardous, but it doesn’t have the lab testing and waste certification to prove it, it should no longer be accepted. Landfill site operators are essentially going to be tasked with obtaining the correct evidence before allowing disposal. If they don’t obtain this evidence, it will be their environmental permit at risk. They are also at risk of extra conditions being applied, or prosecution.

How can I be compliant?

Post-withdrawal, the EA states that those excavating waste for the utilities industry should be delivering an EA-approved protocol for the classification and assessment of excavated utilities waste, and implementing compliance with the legal requirement to correctly classify and assess this waste.

To comply with waste classification guidance, there should always be an assessment stage, particularly when dealing with material of unknown origin or constituents. Companies should produce a sampling plan and an environmental consultancy can support with this, helping to establish an appropriate protocol for the EA, as well as a bespoke process for sampling, analysis and classification of your waste.

To ensure that companies adhere to guidance in the most cost-effective way, SOCOTEC is currently working with a number of companies looking at using a GIS system as a first step in assessing the risk of waste being contaminated based on the historical land use of the site, as well as rapid assessment of the waste arisings using on-site analysis techniques. The higher the risk, the more samples and more detailed assessment are required.

Paul Tilley is operations director, environment and safety at SOCOTEC

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