2 November 2020 by Steve Eminton

EA consults on ‘default building’ rule for waste sites

EXCLUSIVE: A new default rule which could see more waste operations having to take place in an “enclosed building” is causing concern within the waste management sector.

The building proposal, which could prove costly to many businesses and local authorities as it covers civic amenity sites, is contained in a draft Environment Agency guidance document currently out for consultation.

The document is a formal public consultation into “new guidance for permitted facilities taking non-hazardous and inert waste for treatment or transfer.”

Construction time: The default option for a waste and recycling site might be inside a building (picture: Shutterstock)

It comes on the back of the development of the European waste management BREF which covers the installations of a number of hazardous and non-hazardous treatments.


The Environment Agency consultation guidance document is seen as implementing the BREF and the concept of BAT, best available Techniques.  Explaining the draft guidance, the Agency states: “The guidance has been produced to improve the way that permitted facilities in the non-hazardous and inert waste sector are operated and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.

“The guidance will apply to existing and new facilities including household waste recycling centres, waste transfer stations, materials recycling facilities and sites producing soil and aggregates.

“Unless specifically stated, the appropriate measures in the guidance will apply to all permitted waste management facilities in the sector, whether operating under an installation or waste operation permit.”

The Agency adds: “The guidance will apply to newly permitted waste facilities through the environmental permit application process. It will also apply to existing facilities, which will be given time to implement the new standards.”


One big area of emerging concern is a proposed clause stating: “Enclosing activities within buildings is an appropriate measure for preventing and minimising emissions of pollution. For waste treatment activities, we consider this to be the default control measure, given that an appropriately designed building will reduce a range of types of pollutants.”

The Agency does then add: “If your waste treatment activity is likely to cause pollution at sensitive receptors, or if pollution has been substantiated, then you must carry out that waste treatment activity within an enclosed building. This is unless you can demonstrate to us that alternative measures are equally effective or better.”

Sharon Palmer, national environmental permitting manager for Tarmac, has emphasised the need for proportionality in regulation

However, while the consultation is still open concerns about the building default position proposed by the Agency, have prompted the Environmental Services Association to raise the issue with the Environment Agency. And, the need for industry to pay attention to the document and its implications has been highlight by Sharon Palmer, national environmental permitting manager at Tarmac.


“Most concerning is that the guidance makes enclosure of waste treatment in a building the default control measure”

Sharon Palmer, Tarmac

Speaking to letsrecycle.com, Mrs Palmer said that she had been trying to raise awareness of the consultation. “I am extremely concerned about the impact it will have on the waste transfer/treatment industry. The document is black and white and applies to every site. It effectively seeks to apply BAT for waste treatment across all waste operation facilities (including exemptions). Most concerning is that the guidance makes enclosure of waste treatment in a building the default control measure and this is counter to a risk-based approach.”

Mrs Palmer continued: “In my opinion it is not proportionate to effectively apply the waste treatment BAT to waste operation facilities,  it will significantly damage the transfer/treatment industry, and may have the unintended impact of actually increasing waste crime with fewer sites staying open and costs of treatment increasing.”

Advice would be welcome from the Environment Agency as to what alternative measures could be “equally effective or better” and in reality while a building is seen as the best solution, this could be expensive and disproportionate in terms of countering risk, she said. “I am pro-regulation and we should all be achieving certain standards and some sites have fallen short. But a proportionate approach should be applied and there should be recognition that certain sectors are very different from others.”

ESA in contact

Even though the consultation is still open, the Environmental Services Association, which represents the UK waste management sector has already been in contact with the Environment Agency over the document’s references to buildings, said Sam Corp, ESA head of regulation.

Sam Corp, ESA’s head of regulation, said that the Association has spoken with the Environment Agency over initial concerns

Mr Corp said: “ESA’s members are in the process of assessing the guidance in detail and its possible impact on their operations, and we will of course be responding in full to the consultation.”

He confirmed that the “default requirements” was an issue for the sector, explaining: “ESA supports raising standards across the sector, however initial feedback from members – which we have already raised with the Environment Agency – has emphasised the need for the guidance to more explicitly recognise and enable appropriate risk-based alternatives to some of the ‘default’ requirements specified in the guidance.  For example, whilst enclosure in a building is likely to be best practice for many waste treatment operations, there will be instances where the ‘one size fits all’ approach inferred by the guidance will simply not be necessary or appropriate.”

Mr Corp added: “It is also important that a suitable transition period is provided for the implementation of some of the requirements of the guidance.”

Paper sector

The waste paper sector is also expected to be concerned about the buildings issue. Back in 2005, letsrecycle.com reported plans then to possibly require all waste paper to be stored inside (see letsrecycle.com story) which alarmed the sector.


This is a very important issue that will touch on many activities in an entirely unnecessary way. Well done to Sharon for raising the matter so effectively……

At a time when the EA are struggling to achieve even reasonable standards of timeliness in permit applications, the industry do not need this imposition.

Why is this consultation proceeding and what justification is there to insist upon a default position of “inside a building”? Has this proposed change been through some sort of impact review?

Posted by Howard Ellard on November 2, 2020

To post your comment, please login or signup.

Login Sign up