Councils could face costly legal battles because of proposed changes to waste collection laws, representatives have warned.
The Local Government Association said changes to rules governing whether councils should have separate or commingled collections for different types of household waste could prove to be legal minefields.
Proposed changes to the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 would mean commingled collections can continue where separate collections are not “technically, economically and environmentally practicable (TEEP)” or necessary to meet appropriate quality standards.
But the LGA said ambiguity about the definitions of TEEP and appropriate standards could see councils challenged in the courts.
A briefing paper, being discussed at the LGA’s housing and environment board on Wednesday 14 March, said: “Officers have been lobbying Defra to make the regulations robust enough to prevent any legal challenges being levelled at councils.
“We understand that members of the board are concerned that the current ambiguity of TEEP and quality standards could leave councils open to challenge should they determine that separate collection is not practicable or necessary.
“We propose to continue lobbying Defra to make it clear in the guidance that it is the Waste Collection Authority that determines what is practicable and necessary, and not external organisations that are not familiar with local circumstances.”
Defra published a consultation on amendments to waste regulations last month following a judicial review brought by the Campaign for Real Recycling (CRR) over “Regulation 13” of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.
The CRR said commingled collections should not be defined as a form of separate collection because such a definition is contrary to the European Waste Framework Directive’s aims to promote quality recycling.
Judges are scheduled to hold an adjourned hearing of the judicial review on 13 June.
Waste collection service providers have, however, backed Defra’s assertion that commingled collections should be allowed.
Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the Environmental Services Association, said “We believe that local authorities should retain the ability to choose the system that best meets their circumstances.
“Ongoing uncertainty around the regulations helps no one, and we hope that these revised regulations will be confirmed.”
A Defra spokeswoman said: “We’re reviewing and amending how we’ve brought in EU waste legislation, and we will continue to work closely with the LGA on any implications of proposed changes so they can deliver the services their taxpayers want without fear of outside legal challenge.”