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Defra unveils waste definition guide

Defra has published fresh guidance on the legal definition of waste for UK industry and the broader business community.

The guidance is designed to help businesses decide on how to dispose of materials, outlines how the definition of waste relates to other European legal developments and also provides detailed case law for special interest groups.

Ministers said the definition of waste sat “at the heart of waste management policies and controls” as it was used across a number of EU directives (see box below for more).

Defra said the document, Guidance on the legal definition of waste and its application, would give operators a broad steer when they were deciding “whether a material is waste or not”.

A Defra statement added: “In most cases, the decision is straightforward and whoever is taking the decision does not need guidance from the competent authorities to help them take it.

“However, in some cases, the decision is more difficult (eg where the substance or object has a value or a potential use or where the decision is about whether waste has been fully recovered or recycled and has therefore ceased to be waste).

“The aim of the guidance is to help ensure that the right decision is taken in these more difficult cases.”  

The guidance provides a legal analysis of Article 3(1) of the 2008 Waste Framework Directive (WFD) which defines waste as “any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard”.

However, Defra said the guidance does not change the legal definition of waste and it does not take precedence over the case law on the definition’s interpretation. It provides only guidance on that case law according to the competent authorities’ knowledge at the time of publication of the guidance.

It is divided in three parts:

  1. background to and the rationale for the draft guidance
  2. a practical guide for businesses and other organisations
  3. detailed guidance on the case law on the definition of waste for those with a specialist interest in the issue

Defra consulted on a draft at the start of 2010 but pledged to publish the full document soon after the publication of the EC guidance on the WFD to ensure that the definition of waste on the two documents was still fully aligned.

The document was prepared in conjunction with the Welsh Government, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Explainer: why the definition of waste matters

Article 3(1) of the (WFD defines waste as:- “any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard”

This definition is at the heart of waste management policies and controls. It is used not only in the WFD but in a number of other directives. The application of this legislation is dependent on the substance in question being classified as waste.

The courts have been asked to interpret the definition on a number of occasions and a body of case law now exists at both EU level and national level.

This guidance seeks to make the principles established in this case law more accessible for those who need to assess whether they are subject to waste management controls. Examples are also provided in the guidance to help clarify what is and is not waste.

Whether or not a substance or object is waste must be decided on the facts of each case and the interpretation of the law is ultimately a matter for the courts.

However this guidance does not change the legal definition of waste and it does not take precedence over the case law on the definition’s interpretation – it only provides guidance on that case law according to the competent authorities’ knowledge at the time of publication of the guidance

Source: Guidance on the legal definition of waste and its application

 

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