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Councils halt waste sofa collections over POPs enforcement

Councils have temporarily begun to halt the collection of waste soft furnishings, blaming the Environment Agency’s enforcement of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) regulations.

Councils have halted collections of soft furnishings over the Agency's enforcement of POPs regulations (picture: Shutterstock)

In Cumbria, the council said yesterday (4 January) that its 14 household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) will “temporarily be unable to accept” items such as sofas and armchairs, bean bags and foot stools between 1-23 January.

District councils in the area have also halted the collection of waste soft furnishings through bulky waste collections during this period.

Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire county council has made a similar move, introducing a temporary halt to the collections of soft furnishings from district councils and deposits at HWRCs while it sources alternative routes away from landfill.

Residents have been asked to hold onto the waste in the meantime, while the councils seek alternative disposal routes. HWRCs in Cumbria are managed by Cumbria Waste Group, wholly owned by the council. In Cambridgeshire, the nine facilities are managed by Thalia, the company formerly known as Amey.

Regulations

There has been widespread concern about whether local authorities and contractors could comply with the POPs rules in the wake of the Environment Agency’s announcement in August. This was when the Agency wrote to local authorities warning that waste sofas and all other waste upholstered domestic seating containing POPs must be incinerated and not landfilled or reused (see letsrecycle.com story).

It is thought that interpretations of the Agency’s actual precise requirements may vary. The Agency said in November that inspections will not start until August (see letsrecycle.com story), but regulatory position statements setting out enforcement procedures mentioned January 2023.

This is particularly difficult for authorities with a lack of incinerator capacity nearby.

Uncertainty

Celia Tibble, Cumbria council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “This rapid implementation was unexpected and contrary to indications previously given by Defra and the Environment Agency to local authorities.

We ask residents to remain patient and hold onto any of these items

  • Celia Tibble, Cumrbia council

“There is insufficient time to make the necessary changes to how this type of waste is handled at our household waste recycling centres and as a result, with effect from 1 January 2023, we will temporarily be unable to accept these items at our HWRCs.

“This is frustrating and unwelcome news, and we are working hard to find a longer-term solution as quickly as possible.

“We kindly ask residents looking to dispose of household items such as these to remain patient and hold onto any of these items until such time we’re able to accept them again.”

Guidance

August’s POPs guidance was published after an investigation found large levels of POPs in seating textiles and foams.

The Agency set out its enforcement policy last month in the form of RPS documents and guidance pages

POPs “remain intact in the environment for long periods,” the Agency says, and, if not disposed of properly, “become widely distributed geographically.”

In late December, the Agency also published a string of RPS and guidance documents (see letsrecycle.com story).

These set out the Agency’s enforcement position and what steps those handling waste upholstered domestic seating such as sofas must take to avoid enforcement action in the coming months.

This outlined that councils must only mix waste upholstered domestic seating with ‘mixed, residual, (or bulky) household waste’ at HWRCs and not any other waste stream like wood or metal, before being sent to an energy from waste plant.

For Cumbria and Cambridgeshire, it was this which seemed to force them to halt collections, as the RPS documents were effective from January.

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