Agency drops default ‘enclosed building’ rule

EXCLUSIVE: Industry experts have reacted to the Environment Agency’s updated guidance document on appropriate measures for permitted waste facilities.

The finalised document was published on Monday (12 July). It comes after the Agency ran a consultation between September and November 2020,  on a draft guidance document it published on appropriate measures for permitted facilities.

This draft included a default rule that which could see more waste operations having to take place in an “enclosed building”, a suggestion which caused great concern in the waste sector (see letsrecycle.com story).

Enclosed buildings

A building is no longer the default option (picture: Shutterstock)

While Monday’s updated guidance appears to show a slight softening of the Agency’s stance for some waste operations, an enclosed building does remain an appropriate measure to control emissions but is not the default option.

In the original consultation, the Environment Agency said it considers an enclosed building to be a default control measure for treatment operations, which has been dropped in the latest guidance.

However, the guidance still says: “If your waste treatment activities are likely to cause (or are causing) significant pollution at sensitive receptors which cannot be addressed by alternative measures, then you must carry out that waste treatment activity within an enclosed building”.

Partially enclosed

The latest guidance also uses different wording around ensuring waste activities are within an enclosed building “can be” an appropriate measure, whereas before, it says this “is an appropriate measure”.

“Enclosing activities within buildings can be an appropriate measure for preventing and minimising emissions of pollution”

Environment Agency

Touching on enclosed buildings for the emission of pollution from waste activities, the Environment Agency guidance reads: “Enclosing activities within buildings can be an appropriate measure for preventing and minimising emissions of pollution, given that an appropriately designed building will reduce a range of types of pollutants, in particular, noise, dust and odour”.

In another new addition, the guidance says a “partially enclosed building may be an appropriate measure on its own, or together with other appropriate measures, depending on the site-specific circumstances”.

‘Moot point’

The Environment Agency guidance is seen as implementing the BREF and the concept of BAT, best available techniques.

Sharon Palmer, national environmental permitting manager for Tarmac

Sharon Palmer, national environmental permitting manager for Tarmac, explained to letsrecycle.com that while not much had changed, there are some positives within the document.

“As we expected from the response to the consultation, not a great deal has changed, and the principle of merging together BAT for installations and necessary measure for waste operation facilities as appropriate measures still remains a moot point”.

Mrs Palmer added: “The guidance does now recognise the risk based approach, which is to be welcomed. And, I am pleased that the reference to enclosed buildings being the ‘default control measure’ for waste treatment activities has been removed.”

However, Mrs Palmer questioned why the Agency would include a reference to a partially enclosed building.

Not mandatory

The Environment Agency has said throughout that the regulations are not mandatory or definitive, but look to “frame the discussion and act as a starting point we will have with the operator”.

The Agency has also said it does not mean that every facility will have to be enclosed, and it is for the operator to “have regard to our guidance and make a compelling justification as to what is being done”.

Covid

Speaking with letsrecycle.com, Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said he hopes a rational approach is applied at what has been a difficult period for the industry.

Dr Simon Ellin has been CEO of the Recycling Association since 2010

“We hope a pragmatic and risk based approach will be exercised locally and unnecessary building requirements won’t be introduced at a time where industry are trying to recover from the draining financial and operational fall out from Covid.

Background

The Environment Agency guidance is seen as implementing the BREF and the concept of BAT, best available Techniques.

Explaining the draft guidance, the Agency said: “The guidance has been produced to improve the way that permitted facilities in the non-hazardous and inert waste sector are operated and designed. The aim is to ensure that standards are clear, consistent and enforceable.

Timeline

The Agency says the guidance will need to be in place for new before operations start, but its unclear what happens to applications which are currently in the determination process.

For existing facilities, the guidance says that the EA said if the cost of complying with the appropriate measures is disproportionate to the environmental benefit, immediate compliance may not be reasonable.

“Through permit reviews, the Environment Agency will assess the current operating techniques of existing facilities against the relevant appropriate measures,” the Agency added.

It’s thought given the current permitting service workloads and backlog,  it will be unlikely these permitting reviews will happen in the near future, potentially for several years.

However, operators may choose to implement the guidance sooner themselves where they feel it is appropriate to do so.

Related link
Environment Agency guidance

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