Minister Pow heralds waste exemption changes

Details of changes to the waste exemptions regime for England and Wales have today (6 February) been published following a consultation launched in 2018.

A tyre fire in Bradford in 2020 which the EA has said is an example of an exemption being abused (picture: Network Rail)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the reforms would “crack down on dangerous waste cowboys and illegal practices” and provide for “greater scrutiny of activities at waste sites to prevent waste stockpiling and tax evasion”.

Explaining the changes, Defra said that the current rules in England and Wales allow certain low-risk, small-scale waste activities to be carried out under a registration scheme, exempt from the need to hold an environmental permit, providing a light-touch but valuable form of regulation.

The department continued: “However, criminals have used the cover of exemptions to carry out illegal waste activities such as stockpiling large amounts of undocumented or unsuitable waste and evading landfill tax in England and landfill disposals tax in Wales. These abuses are estimated to cost the English economy £87.2 million a year.

“The government confirmed plans to close these loopholes in the Environmental Improvement Plan, which was published last week, alongside a pledge to seek to eliminate waste crime by 2043.”

Alongside the changes to exemptions, Defra is planning to remove three of the 10 waste exemptions of most concern, covering the use of depolluted end-of-life vehicle parts, the treatment of tyres and the recovery of scrap metal.


Environment minister Rebecca Pow heralded the reforms to the waste exemption regime, saying: “Waste crime costs taxpayers tens of millions of pounds every year. We are determined to take the fight to those shameful criminals who seek to wreak havoc on our environment and economy.

Environment minister, Rebecca Pow said the reforms would prevent dishonest operators ‘gaming the system’

“We are clear in our commitment to eliminate this kind of illegal activity and these reforms will prevent dishonest operators from gaming the system and putting our health at risk.

“This is just one of the measures we’re taking to tackle waste crime – we’re also giving regulators and local authorities more power to bring criminals to justice.”

The Environment Agency said that its regulatory compliance checks have revealed that certain exemption types have been routinely used to hide illegal waste activities from regulatory oversight in recent years.

It gave the example of an incident in November 2020 when firefighters tackled a blaze for a week at a site in Bradford that held an exemption allowing the storage of tyres.

The Agency said today: “The exemption was being abused and 600,000 tyres were on the site. The proposed reforms would mean a full environmental permit would be needed for this kind of site.”

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency endorsed Defra’s actions. Steve Molyneux, the Agency’s strategic lead on waste regulation, said: “The Environment Agency is determined to make life harder for criminals by disrupting and stopping illegal activity through better regulation and tough enforcement action.

These sites are a risk to the environment and people’s safety and undercut legitimate business

Steve Molyneux, EA waste regulation strategic lead

“Today’s announcement will help us in our goal by restricting or removing waste exemptions that are used to mask illegal waste sites. These sites are a risk to the environment and people’s safety and undercut legitimate business.

“We will keep working with government and the waste industry to drive further action on waste crime.”

The government is also planning to introduce greater record-keeping requirements for all waste exemption holders; impose limits and controls on how multiple exemptions can be managed at one site; and ban the use of exemptions at a site operating under an environmental permit, or where there is a ‘direct link’ between the exempt and permitted activity.


On the exemptions themselves, Defra said that changes had been made to the detail of its proposals in response to the 2018 consultation “to make sure that the changes are proportionate, but still achieve the aim of minimising risk to people and the environment”.

A table referencing the changes sets out the change to be made to the 10 waste exemptions of most concern and identifies the annex in which further details are available.

The document says that the Agency will prohibit the use of waste exemptions at permitted sites. “Waste exemptions are for activities where the risk has been assessed as low on the basis of that activity alone. Similarly, environmental permits are granted subject to conditions on the basis that the permitted activity is the only waste operation being carried out on the site.

“Where a permitted activity and exempt activity are carried out together, the cumulative risk profile will not have been assessed and may pose an unacceptable risk to people and the environment. Examples of this include registering waste exemptions to allow increased quantities of waste, additional waste types, or different and additional treatment processes to those authorised by the environmental permit. In situations where operators have registered exemptions that extend their waste activities beyond the limits and conditions of their environmental permit, they will need to apply for a permit variation.”

Multiple exemptions

Regarding the use of multiple exemptions to increase permissible limits and avoid permitting, the Agency is clarifying the environmental permitting regulations so it is clear that the storage limit for each waste type is limited to the lowest limit set out in those exemptions registered where more than one exemption is registered at a site.

Where more than one exemption is registered at a site, then the storage limit for each waste type is limited to the lowest limit set out

– Environment Agency

The Agency gives an example: “For example, registering an exemption allowing 50 cubic metres of wood to be stored, together with another exemption allowing 60 cubic metres of wood to be stored would not allow for 110 cubic metres of wood to be stored.

“Instead, an overall storage limit of 50 cubic metres, the lowest limit of the two exemptions registered would be allowed. It does not matter in what order these exemptions are registered.

“In order to protect human health and the environment, the lowest storage limit is the limit under which an exemption operator must undertake their activities.”

Related link
Exemptions, supplementary government response
Annexes to exemptions response

Share this article with others

Subscribe for free

Subscribe to receive our newsletters and to leave comments.

Back to top

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest waste and recycling news straight to your inbox.