Exemptions from waste permitting face overhaul

The two-tier system of environmental permit exemptions for waste sites is to be simplified in October 2009, under government proposals. Farms, construction sites, metal recyclers and composters are among those that will be most affected.

Proposals to overhaul the system of exemptions from environmental permitting for waste operations were issued for consultation by the Environment Department (DEFRA) in July.1 The proposals, representing the biggest changes to the regime since the mid-1990s, have been developed by DEFRA, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Environment Agency as part of their better regulation drive. They aim to create a "more risk-based approach" to regulating waste recovery and disposal.

Some 143,000 sites, mostly farms, are registered for exemptions. The current system has two tiers: "simple" and "notifiable" exemptions depending on the environmental risk. Sites operating under notifiable exemptions undergo levels of assessment comparable to licensed operations.

DEFRA’s proposals are based on an informal consultation last year (ENDS Report 387, pp 43-45 ). Its main proposal is to eliminate notifiable exemptions. Only low-risk operations will be regulated using exemptions, with higher-risk activities requiring environment permits. Keeping a two-tier system "would… lead to difficulties in defining boundaries between simple and notifiable exemptions, and notifiable exemptions and permits", it says.

Most businesses currently operating under an exemption will continue to do so, DEFRA says. But new exemptions will be created for activities such as on-farm anaerobic digestion plants generating less than 1.5 megawatts of electricity. Most activities operating under an Agency low-risk position statement will also need an exemption. These have been developed for dozens of activities, many involving waste storage.

Activities requiring a permit will include the production and use of aggregates made from inert waste, if above 500 tonnes per year. Part B processes, which are waste activities regulated by local authorities because of their emissions to air, will also generally require permits.

DEFRA estimates 5% of businesses now operating under exemptions will need permits following the change.

An Agency briefing note issued alongside the consultation, outlines which industries will be affected,2 mainly:

  • Agriculture: Simple exemptions will be created for farmers using lined biobeds to dispose of non-hazardous pesticide washings, and for those storing non-packaging plastics.

    To spread waste on farms, farmers currently have to carry out a risk assessment and show it will lead to agricultural benefit or ecological improvement. Such assessments are needed due to the variability of waste streams used. DEFRA has decided that these activities are better regulated by environmental permits.

    But some waste streams are consistent and spreading of these will still be allowed under an exemption. The consultation includes a list of allowed wastes, such as organic output from anaerobic digestion plants and compost made from source-segregated food and green waste.

    Spreading of waste on non-farmland will also be limited to specific waste types and quantities.

  • Metal recyclers: The current exemption for the storage and treatment of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) has aided "significant levels of illegal activity", DEFRA says. As a result, it proposes removing the exemption for handling ELVs and requiring all operations to gain a permit.

    There will be an exemption for other scrap metal, limited to firms treating no more than 275 tonnes of scrap per week and not storing more than 15,000 tonnes. "However, the government is minded to reduce these thresholds even further… One option is to restrict the exemption to the handling of ‘dry’ scrap only."

  • Composting: DEFRA is proposing a new composting exemption. It will apply to composting sites processing no more than 40 tonnes of their own waste at a time for use on the same site. A lower limit of 25 tonnes will be used for sites composting others’ waste or using the compost elsewhere. This change should benefit community composting groups, DEFRA says.
  • Exemptions will need to be registered every three years and cost £50 per site. The charge will allow the Agency to inspect 2% of sites a year. The only exception to this will be sites repairing or refurbishing waste electronic and electrical equipment. These will need to pay £840 because the Agency intends to inspect such sites every year because of their environmental risk.

    The consultation runs until 23 October. DEFRA intends to introduce the system in October 2009, although there will be a transition period, which will be up to three years for some sites such as Part B processes.

    DEFRA intends to consult on guidance about the new regime next spring. The Agency will develop standard permits for all previously exempt activities by October 2009.

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