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The route to separate collection

From 1 January 2015, all those collecting waste paper, metal, plastic or glass must do so by means of separate collection, and they must also ensure that waste that has been separately collected is not subsequently mixed with other material with different properties.

The requirement applies to the commercial waste sector and to local authorities, and to the collection of commercial and industrial waste as well as municipal waste. The purpose of the measure is to promote high-quality recycling, as required by the Waste Framework Directive.

Any establishment or undertaking collecting these materials must do so by way of separate collection, subject to:

  • The necessity test: separate collection being necessary to ensure that the waste undergoes a recovery operation in accordance with the waste hierarchy and provisions on protection of the environment and human health, and to facilitate or improve recovery.
  • The practicability test: separate collection being technically environmentally and economically practicable. The question under the first test is whether separate collection is necessary in the circumstances to achieve a standard commensurate with what would be achieved through good separate collection, in terms of quality and quantity.

The question under the first test is whether separate collection is necessary in the circumstances to achieve a standard commensurate with what would be achieved through good separate collection, in terms of quality and quantity.

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If separate collection would increase the quantity or quality of material collected, this would generally indicate that it meets the necessity test. The aim is to produce recyclate capable of being used by reprocessors to process the material into a product of similar quality to the original product.

The practicability test is intended to be a high hurdle. The Environment Agency (EA) states in its briefing note Separate Collection of Recyclables that, in this context, impracticable does not mean simply difficult, inconvenient, more expensive or unpopular in comparison with other options.

Looking at each of the elements of the practicability test in turn:

  • ‘Technically practicable’ means that a system for separate collection is technically developed and proven to function in practice.
  • ‘Environmentally practicable’ means that the added value of ecological benefits justifies any possible negative effects of separate collection, such as increased emissions.
  • ‘Economically practicable’ means that separate collection does not result in excessive costs in comparison with treatment of a non-separated waste stream, taking into account the added value of recovery and recycling and the principle of proportionality.      

The likelihood is that the necessity test will be met in the majority of circumstances. The EA’s briefing note even states that very strong evidence would be needed to support an argument that separate collection of glass is not necessary. The focus of companies undertaking collection of these materials is therefore likely to be the practicability test, and concerns have been raised about the availability of appropriate guidance for the commercial sector when applying the test to their business.

The EA states in its briefing note that it endorses the Waste Regulations Route Map and regards it as good practice, and states that if waste collectors follow the map, it will give the EA a high degree of assurance that they are acting reasonably.

However, the Route Map has been designed for use by local authorities rather than commercial businesses. While there may be elements of the map which are useful, it is no substitute for comprehensive guidance geared towards the issues and needs of the commercial waste sector.

Businesses collecting waste metal, paper, plastic or glass should review their collection arrangements prior to the deadline on 1 January, assessing whether they comply with the new requirements by reference to evidence, and should maintain a clear audit trail documenting the decisions they take.

This will be important in the event that enforcement action is taken, so they can demonstrate that they have undertaken an assessment in terms of compliance and can justify the decisions they have taken.

Fiona Ross is an Associate at Pinsent Masons

Readers' comments (1)

  • This is an interesting take on the issue, and PM seem to be taking this more seriously than some local authorities and businesses. I wonder if anyone has any insights regarding how TEEP is supposed to work in relation to two-tier authorities? Can the Waste Collecting Authority simply say “collecting glass is not economically practicable as it is a lot cheaper just to give it to the Waste Disposal Authority as residual waste – all the cost savings of glass collection would go to the WPA, so it would be too expensive for us (as a WCA) to establish a scheme on our own”? Does the WPA have any duty to carry out any assessment at all if they are not the ones collecting the waste?

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