The Environment Agency (EA) is changing its approach to waste compliance from ensuring individual sites are compliant with the appropriate permits, to a ‘waste stream approach’. This means its focus is on ensuring waste is compliant as it flows through the system, with greater certainty on where it has come from and is going to.
Speaking at WRAP’s MRF event last week, EA permitting manager Barry Sheppard explained the change in approach followed several high profile cases of containers of UK waste, as opposed to legitimate recyclables, being seized and returned to the UK from abroad, at great cost and embarrassment to the country. In one such case, around 90 containers of what had been described as plastics for recycling was in fact poorly sorted household waste, which was seized and returned by the authorities in Brazil. Much of this had come from UK local authorities and passed through sites that were regulated by the EA.
By ensuring the flow of waste and recyclables from point to point is compliant, the EA hopes to ensure greater compliance of exports. It defines the Waste Stream Approach as looking at “the generation, processing and fate of wastes beyond our structural and National boundaries in order to ensure that wastes are prepared to a standard which is appropriate and recovered or disposed in a environmentally sound manner”.
The new approach has two strands:
- An audit methodology, which looks at waste inputs and outputs and means operations must provide data to the EA ahead of visits; and
- An information sharing mechanism which uses a ‘data hub’ approach to analyse and cross-check data, with feedback going to the EA’s regional teams so that they can follow up and intervene where needed.
Trials using this approach have been conducted on MRF and waste electrical and electronic equipment waste streams, and will now be applied to tyres, healthcare waste, biowaste, construction and demolition waste and possibly others.
Sheppard explained: “Essentially we are trying to follow these [waste] flows to ensure the end destinations are legal…If something appears not to be legal, then we can ask questions.”
The trials have brought to light several findings:
- Complexity of waste flows – which travel long distances around the country, so are difficult to build up an accurate picture of;
- Loss of identity of waste – with waste being bulked up and passed on it is difficult to ascribe it to a particular source or local authority as it moves along the chain;
- Role of waste brokers – has caused problems, with about 50% of the EA’s audit analysis showing some sort of compliance issue, and about 75% of that 50% involving waste brokers;
- Data quality issues
- Regional issues which have national implications
- Lack of understanding by local authorities about where their waste actually goes.
As a result, some operators and local authorities involved in the trials have changed the way they operate, and the hope is that this will continue as the approach is rolled out to other waste streams.