Excavated soils no longer waste

Excavated soils will no longer be considered ‘waste’ if they comply with a code of practice recently issued by industry body CL:AIRE

The voluntary code, developed in conjunction with the Environment Agency, has changed little since it was issued for consultation in April.

It replaces the Agency’s previous guidance document, "The definition of waste: developing greenfield and brownfield sites".

The question of whether excavated soils are ‘waste’ has been debated for many years. Until now the Agency has adopted a strict interpretation of the EU’s definition of waste meaning that excavated soil – even from uncontaminated greenfield sites – is considered waste and subject to environmental permitting. This has hindered its reuse.

The new code sets out how to assess whether soils are waste or not, including what levels of treatment are necessary. Soils must be “suitable for use” and not cause adverse effect to the environment.

However, the code only applies to soils reused on the site from which they have been excavated, or those sent to a “soil treatment hub” approved by the Agency and then reused within a defined “cluster” – a group of development projects using the same soil treatment centre.

A qualified person on each site will have to send the Agency a declaration that soils are being dealt with in line with the code. The Agency will undertake random audits of some sites to check compliance.

The Environmental Industries Commission welcomed the development. However, Merlin Hyman, its director, expressed disappointed that it did not apply to soil treatment centres outside cluster projects. “The first draft does not tackle the problems preventing soil treatment centres being set up or direct transfer of clean-up soils from one site to another, which could cut waste by providing an alternative to landfill,” he said.