Industry members have welcomed additional clarity in the Environment Agency’s (EA) recent draft guidance on the enforcement of separate collection regulations, but some questions remain.
The ‘briefing note’ was obtained by MRW after a Freedom of information request. It specifies the agency’s position on commingled collections, and mentions guidelines put forward in recent industry-led initiatives as legitimate reference points for councils.
The EA also said it was working with Defra on a “risk-based” regime to help local authoritiescomply with the regulations and keep enforcement actions to a minimum.
Steve Lee, chief executive at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, said the note provided a “clearer picture” of the approach that the regulator intended to take for household and commercial waste collections in England. He said: “The real detail about what is or isn’t a compliant scheme will only emerge with experience.”
The EA acknowledged that a Waste Regulations Route Map, issued by WRAP, the London Waste and Recycling Board and others in April, was good practice and that the agency was planning to integrate it in the enforcement regime.
A spokesperson for the group said it was “testament to the meticulous and collaborative nature in which the route map was developed”. He added: “It provides an approach enabling local authorities to make their own decisions. We will offer any support we can to the EA as they consider its role within the regulatory regime.”
Ray Georgeson, chief executive at the Resource Association, was pleased that the association’s guidance on contamination levels, the Recycling Quality Information Point, was cited by the EA as a tool councils could use to assess whether their collection produced high quality recyclate.
He said it provided a clear statement on quality specifications which established the position of UK reprocessors in defining quality standards for the relevant recycling sectors, as stated in revised Waste Framework Directive.
“We look forward to confirmation from the EA of the status of the briefing note and to more direct dialogue with the EA on their approach to enforcement,” he said.
The Environmental Services Association said it was glad the EA had acknowledged that different solutions were practicable in different local authorities and neighbourhoods, depending on the circumstances.
But Phil Conran, director at consultancy 360 Environmental, said that the document was mostly focused on local authorities and provided little guidance to commercial waste collectors.
“We are therefore still left with the position that commercial collectors will have to make a subjective judgement,” he said. “The outcome of the EA’s discussions with Defra on the development of a risk-based regime hopefully will come soon enough to give commercial operators time to put in place the necessary changes to meet EA enforcement expectations.”
Andy Moore, managing director of UK Recyclate who has said it may consider legally challenging councils that decide to continue with commingled collections, said the guidance should have been released last year. “Discussion of details is far from premature as it suggests: they are long overdue,” he said.
He also questioned the nature of the enforcement regime. “We’re not sure what ‘risk-based’ means. It sounds like a minefield, given that the agency upholds no clear definition of contamination, whilst all commingled material is at risk of being contaminated and pushed down the hierarchy. We hope as ever for robust action from the agency but the words chosen in the statement are less than heartening.