EA slashes permitted storage limits for healthcare waste

The amount of waste clinical waste firms are permitted to store on site each year has been reduced from 75,000 to 5,000 tonnes.

The changes were published this week in the Environment Agency’s (EA) revision of the standard rules permit for clinical and healthcare waste transfer stations.

Alongside the changes to clinical waste storage, the new rules mean that operators will only be able to store 20 tonnes of non-hazardous waste on site at any one time and firms will be able to store aerosol containers for a maximum of three months. 

Operators must also meet the requirements of updated guidance on healthcare waste which was published by the EA last year.

The EA proposed the revised guidance in 2019 after a high-profile case in which clinical waste firm Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) was forced to close in 2018, having breached its environmental permits for the storage of clinical waste.

The guidance sets out what operators must consider when they assess the appropriate measures for their site. 

As well as the changes to this permit, the EA has revoked two other standard rules permits for the treatment of healthcare waste, for which it said there had been minimal or non-existent takeup.

These permits are for smaller tonneages. One respondent to the consultation on the rule changes suggested that “there are currently a number of companies looking at new ways of treating personal protective equipment (PPE) and for the small tonnages that are likely to arise for niche areas these standard rules would allow investment for a small tonnage”. 

However, the EA said that where appropriate, it would work with industry and the National Permitting Service to support applications for low risk, low volume healthcare waste treatment activities that promote the recovery of waste. For example, it said, “by clarifying the potential for the abatement of permit application fees”.