Guidance issued on non-hazwaste treatment

Most non-hazardous waste producers will only have to sort waste and recycle part of it to comply with the landfill Directive, according to Environment Agency guidance.1

From 30 October, the landfill Directive requires all non-hazardous waste to be treated before being landfilled and bans the landfilling of non-hazardous liquid waste. The aim is to reduce reliance on landfill and the environmental impact of landfill sites.

Similar requirements are already in place for hazardous waste, which since July 2004 have needed to be pre-treated before being landfilled.

The Directive defines treatment as "physical, thermal, chemical or biological processes… that change the characteristics of a waste in order to reduce its volume, hazardous nature or facilitate its handling for recovery."

Unlike with hazardous waste, there are no standards or limit values known as "waste acceptance criteria" to which non-hazardous waste must be treated before it can be landfilled.

The Agency assumes municipal waste already undergoes such treatment because councils have to meet targets for recycling and the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill.

The most suitable treatment for most non-hazardous wastes, says the guidance, is to sort them at a transfer station "with a proportion of the sorted waste being recycled". All of the recyclable fraction should be removed, "not just one or two items."

The guidance lists other treatment options for common waste streams and gives examples of industry best practice. Most are obvious - for example, biodegradable organic waste should be sent for composting or anaerobic digestion.

In the case of contaminated soils, a site investigation can identify soils with different contamination or no contamination so they can be excavated separately. This process would be regarded as treatment if it reduced the volume of waste, enhanced the amount of soil recovered, or facilitated handling.

The Agency will take a "reasonable and proportionate" approach to enforcement, the guidance adds. For example, it accepts treating some wastes would be inappropriate "because in diverting a fraction of the waste away from landfill, polluting substances may be more concentrated in the residual waste."

"It is therefore important to consider the total waste stream… not just the impact of the residual waste. Otherwise this new requirement will drive perverse decisions on treatment that will have a net environmental disbenefit."

Waste producers and holders should complete a written declaration stating the treatment used and, if relevant, the amount of waste sorted out for recovery so waste can be accepted at landfills. This can be incorporated into waste transfer notes.

Landfill operators currently must ensure only treated waste goes into landfills, although the government is consulting on changes to the duty of care regime to also place an obligation on waste producers and holders (ENDS Report 383, pp 36-37 ).

Waste producers should constantly review how they dispose of their waste to take account of new treatment options.

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