‘No reason in law why HWRCs cannot be open’ – Defra

There is “no reason in law” why household waste recycling centres cannot be open, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs declared today (5 May).

Strengthening its stance of “encouraging” local authorities to reopen HWRCs or civic amenity sites which were closed as the UK locked down for the coronavirus pandemic, Defra said: “Where possible, local authorities should seek to retain access to HWRC services for their residents to dispose of waste”.

Councils are legally obliged to provide places for residents to take their waste


The department did however also say that “householders should only take waste to a HWRC if it cannot be stored safely at home and no alternative disposal options are available”.

No date is being set by government as to when HWRCs should be open, said Defra in what is updated guidance. And, the decision remains with the local authority.


The guidance explains that councils are legally obliged to provide places for residents to take their waste. It also notes that HWRCs provide resources, such as fuel for biomass power – the wood recycling sector has been badly hit by reduced waste wood volumes, partly because of the closure of HWRCs.

Referencing the Coronavirus Act (2020), the Department says that “It would be reasonable for residents to undertake a journey to a HWRC if the waste or recycling could not be stored safely at home or disposed of through other legitimate routes such as a dedicated collection. By this we mean that the waste/recycling could not be stored on their property without causing a risk of injury, health or harm to the resident or other members of their household or harm to public health and amenity.”

A lack of wood from HWRCs has hit the biomass sector hard


Defra appears to imply that some local authorities may have been wrong in their interpretation of the law. It says: “We recognise many local authorities closed HWRCs because it was considered that journeys to them could not be justified alongside ‘stay at home’ advice, however, the law does not require HWRCs to close.”


The department also appears to have accepted that no-one will be able to determine whether the visit to an HWRC is actually necessary or not. [The Department does not use the word ‘essential’].

“The police cannot assess what is or is not a legitimate trip to a HWRC”


It comments: “Staff working at HWRCs should not be expected to determine if visitors to the HWRCs

  • are making a legitimate journey
  • are bringing items that can or cannot be stored safely at home

The police cannot assess what is or is not a legitimate trip to a HWRC, and they will be unable to assist in this respect.”

Defra also gives guidance of a number of points such as communications. Its work follows the publication of guidance produced by local authority associations about site reopening.

Related links

Defra guidance today for local authorities on HWRCs can be found HERE

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