Hazardous waste rules for packaging ‘on hold’

17 February 2014

By Michael Holder

Changes to Environment Agency guidance on the classification of packaging waste could see large amounts of used containers – including plastic bottles and Tetrapaks – classified as hazardous waste.

If the used containers have materials or residues in them, they would need to be dealt with at licensed hazardous waste facilities.

The Environment Agency is consulting on changes to hazardous waste packaging guidelines, which would remove previous weight-based thresholds
The Environment Agency is consulting on changes to hazardous waste packaging guidelines, which would remove previous weight-based thresholds

The new rules are contained in Agency guidance which was due to come into force on January 1 2014 but has now been put on hold until April 1 2014.

Previously, hazardous classification was calculated on the basis of the weight of the empty, uncleansed packaging, with consideration also given to the concentration of the hazardous substance left in the packaging and compared to relevant thresholds.

However, this weight-based classification has been removed from the Agency’s official guidance after it was updated. This means that packaging – such as empty mineral oil drums and used sacks which contained liquids – will have to be reclassified as hazardous unless it can be proved that the packaging has been fully cleansed with the hazard removed – regardless of the weight of the contents. Reclassified packaging will also incur an Agency fee of £38 per collection.

The change means any packaging which has contained a hazardous product but has not been cleansed or decontaminated is to be automatically considered a hazardous waste, regardless of its weight or the concentration of the potentially hazardous substance originally contained in the packaging.

The revelations come in the third edition of the Agency’s Technical Guidance WM2 on hazardous waste – which officially came into force on January 1 2014, but will not be enforced until April 1 2014 while emergency consultation takes place.

'They [the Environment Agency] are listening to us – they are being quite pragmatic and have accepted that they should have consulted. We thought we had a good relationship with the Agency in the past, and current discussions have reinvigorated that relationship.'

Phil Pease, chief executive officer, Industrial Packaging Association

The guidance has been released by the Agency alongside a draft clarification letter, which states that this revised assessment of packaging waste is being implemented to ‘make the assessment simpler and more practical’, adding that it is ‘based on the presence or absence of residues of each hazardous product’.

It adds that packaging waste is hazardous waste if it ‘contains any residue or contamination of a product that is dangerous’, adding that this ‘includes all types of packaging’.

Other changes outlined in the guidance mean that uncleansed packaging which is assessed as unfit for reuse must also now be cleansed before it can by crushed or baled for recovery.
However, key changes in the guidance have been criticised by some as unnecessary red tape and for creating confusion as to when packaging waste should be classified as hazardous waste.

Commenting on the change, one waste industry figure told letsrecycle.com that it ‘would be good if the Agency and its chairman spent more time digging our rivers out and less time thinking of more red tape’.

Consultation

Phil Pease, chief executive officer of the Industrial Packaging Association (IPA) – the trade body for the packaging industry – told letsrecycle.com that the paragraph on weight-based classification was removed in the updated guidance last year without any prior consultation by the Environment Agency.

He said that although regulations in the UK worked on a hazard basis rather than on a risk-assessed basis, the paragraph on weight-based calculations in the previous guidance had provided some flexibility over how packaging should be treated.

'Six weeks after the law came into effect, we are still waiting for the EA to clarify their position with regards to the collection and recycling of unwanted packaging. Unfortunately this is leading to confusion and therefore until such time that the situation is fully clarified we have no option but to assume that all unwanted packaging is considered waste and all packaging previously containing hazardous material will be considered hazardous waste.'

Peter Hunt, managing director, WasteCare

The IPA had therefore fought for a consultation on the changes – which is now taking place – and is in discussions with the Agency over several elements of the updated guidance, such as agreeing a reduced consignment note fee for packaging waste suitable for reuse.

Collections of hazardous waste packaging can only be made using a hazardous waste consignment note, but Mr Pease said the IPA had also agreed with the Agency a simplified consignment note system, which would mean that it will not be necessary to detail the contents of all packaging being transported in a load – merely to state that the contents are hazardous.

And, while the Guidance suggests that sites operating under an exemption can no longer accept hazardous packaging, Mr Pease said the IPA was working towards agreeing some key exemptions with the Agency.

He told letsrecycle.com: “They [the Environment Agency] are listening to us – they are being quite pragmatic and have accepted that they should have consulted. We thought we had a good relationship with the Agency in the past, and current discussions have reinvigorated that relationship.”

Mr Pease added: “From this point on we want only tests that are also capable of treating the hazard. Clean it and test it, and if it is reusable then great but if it cannot be reused then it gets sent to scrap recycling. This way the packaging goes to scrap as a clean item or gets another life so there are environmental benefits on both counts.”

WasteCare

But, while discussions are ongoing, concerns have been raised that this is in the meantime causing confusion over when packaging waste should be classified as hazardous waste, resulting in all collections of hazardous packaging being classified as hazardous waste and incurring the full Agency fee.

Peter Hunt – managing director of waste management and hazardous waste specialists WasteCare – said: “Six weeks after the law came into effect, we are still waiting for the EA to clarify their position with regards to the collection and recycling of unwanted packaging.”

“Unfortunately this is leading to confusion and therefore until such time that the situation is fully clarified we have no option but to assume that all unwanted packaging is considered waste and all packaging previously containing hazardous material will be considered hazardous waste. This way all our customers will be complying with the regulations in full regardless of the final outcome of the EA’s deliberations. Of course, we will keep our customers updated with any future developments and update our procedures should the opportunity arise.”