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Businesses are taking their food waste duties seriously

Calum MacDonald

Scotland has made a massive transition in how it manages commercial waste since the duty to separate materials for recycling was introduced in 2014. Compliance sampling at 6,752 premises across the country indicates that around two-thirds of businesses are already fully compliant, and around 80% are making some efforts to separate material for recycling.

This is testament to the hard work of waste service providers, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), partner agencies such as Zero Waste Scotland, as well as waste producers themselves, to achieve this paradigm shift.

Given the amount of work Sepa has done in partnership with the Scottish Environmental Services Association and their members, it is disappointing that Jacob Hayler, executive director of the UK arm of the association, has concerns about how this requirement is being enforced, if at all.

There are obviously challenges still to be overcome. We estimate that around 20% of businesses are not making any effort to comply. This is where Sepa is targeting its enforcement effort, including use of new powers to issue a £300 fixed monetary penalty (FMP) where advice and engagement fail to change behaviour.

Between September 2016 and February 2017, Sepa has undertaken 44 inspections throughout Scotland of businesses identified by service providers as persistently non-compliant. Three-quarters of these have demonstrated compliance since being threatened with a £300 FMP, while the remainder are in different stages of the FMP inspection and issue process.

Generally, it is the small, independent food businesses that are the most likely to be unaware or resistant to procuring waste and recycling services that enable compliance. They tend to have resource and time pressures, and often need support to set up and maintain recycling systems.

Inspecting some of these businesses is challenging during normal working hours because they may not open until the early evening, so we are adapting our inspection practices accordingly. We are also spending significant time and effort on each inspection, to the extent of opening black bin bags from external general waste containers in order to gather sufficient evidence for enforcement action.

Changing the behaviour of small businesses requires a collaborative and co-ordinated effort from all players. Many small businesses have no understanding of their wider responsibilities under duty of care. They may be tempted to dispose of material in domestic on-street bins or believe that they are complying by dutifully separating material and taking it to local recycling facilities. Business engagement, and ultimately enforcement, have a critical role in reversing this trend.

Waste and recycling service providers must deliver solutions that work for individual businesses, including a potential radical review of access to local authority recycling facilities that recover costs.

The statutory Duty of Care Code of Practice in Scotland states that waste collectors must ensure recycling services are designed and operated to promote ‘high-quality’ recycling. That means collectors are not simply providing a service, but share responsibility for material entering the treatment chain, and the impact on quality of the final output from the treatment facility.

Customers that have a recycling service but continually contaminate it, undermining the quality or quantity of material captured, should be reported to the relevant local authority or Sepa for enforcement action.

Calum MacDonald is director of regulatory services at Sepa

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