Waste carriers must show technical competence

The government must require waste carriers and brokers to show technical competence if it is to tackle waste crime, according to the Environmental Services Association. More enforcement of the duty of care regime is also needed.

The Environment Department (DEFRA) issued proposals to tighten controls over waste carriers and brokers and the duty of care regime last year (ENDS Report 383, pp 36-37 ).

The duty of care regime requires waste holders to ensure waste is only transferred to people authorised to receive it. They must complete waste transfer notes to show this.

With fly-tipping estimated to cost £100 million per year, revision of the controls is long overdue.

DEFRA asked for views on what could be done to improve compliance, whether fines should be increased and what alternative penalties should be introduced.

  • Duty of Care: According to the ESA’s consultation response, the failure of the duty of care system "is largely due to lack of enforcement". The Environment Agency "should focus more resources on regulating and auditing the management systems of waste producers and… also be more proactive regarding enforcement of duty of care offences," it says.

    Additional funding for this should come from government, not the waste management industry via higher permitting fees.

    Enforcement action needs to be backed up by tougher sentencing from the courts for waste offences, it adds. Magistrates currently hand out "pitifully small fines", "which serve as no deterrent" to waste crime.

    In its response, the Agency agrees that "continued, if not expanded" enforcement action is needed. But it says "resources will need to be made available" for this. The Agency is currently struggling with budget cuts (ENDS Report 383, p 5 ).

    However, it says the most significant barrier to the duty of care system performing properly is a lack of awareness among businesses.

    "Structured and sector-specific communication campaigns will be needed to promote any revised requirements," it says. The Federation of Small Businesses supports this view.

    The Agency also calls on the government to alter the point at which duty of care responsibilities apply.

    At the moment, it lies with the person whose actions give rise to waste. For example, in the case of a large construction project, this will be a subcontractor who will not necessarily have control over how the waste is managed. If the responsibility was placed higher up the management chain, it says, companies would have a greater incentive to dispose of waste properly.

    Both the Agency and ESA agree with the government’s proposal that the duty of care should be extended to waste exports.

    They also support moves to require waste transfer notes to record information required under the EU landfill Directive, such as waste characterisation and evidence of pre-treatment.

  • Waste carriers and brokers: Waste carriers and brokers currently have to register with the Agency. But according to the ESA, a "fundamental weakness" of this system - affecting the entire duty of care regime - is that they do not have to show technical competence.
  • As a minimum, the ESA says, waste carriers and brokers should need to show knowledge of:

    • Different waste categories.
    • Requirements to separate hazardous and non-hazardous wastes and pretreat before landfill.
    • How to manage waste transfer notes.
    • Types of waste disposal and treatment facilities and the wastes they can accept.

    Companies should have to register every two years, says the ESA, although the requirement would not apply to holders of waste management licences or pollution prevention and control permits. They should not have to register as a carrier if they can show that any carrier activity is linked to their permitted activity.

    But the ESA does not say how technical competence would be demonstrated. This is in spite of DEFRA calling on the waste management industry to develop new, less burdensome ways of showing technical competence outside the current certificate system that could be in place in time for the new environmental permitting programme (ENDS Report 384, p 40 ).

    The Agency’s response does not mention technical competence, but calls for the system to be simplified so waste carriers and brokers apply for the same registration. Companies should only have to register once with subsequent annual billing.

    The Agency agrees that registration charges should be linked to the number of vehicles a business owns and/or the risk associated with the type of waste they carry. This would ensure that small businesses are not unfairly burdened by the scheme’s administrative costs.

    But the ESA says current fees "are low enough so as not to discourage smaller operators". Any extra charge for larger firms "would simply be a revenue-generating exercise".

    To stop fraudulent applications, the Agency asks for more powers to verify applicants. But it does not explain the kind of powers it wants.

    DEFRA should also consider requiring waste brokers operating in the UK to be registered in the UK, the Agency says. This would help prevent the illegal export of waste.