Further changes bring simplification and reduced burdens when transferring waste

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Recent changes introduced under the Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (the 2014 Regulations) mean businesses can now use invoices, orders and receipts to prove waste has been transferred legally and safely. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) decision to allow such alternatives to traditional waste transfer notes (WTNs) is part of the Government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to review and streamline over 21,000 statutory instruments. The new approach is key in simplifying and reducing the burdens faced under environmental regulation.

The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (the 2011 Regulations) establish that anyone handling controlled waste has a duty of care and must demonstrate it is taking reasonable steps to apply the prescribed waste hierarchy when transferring waste. Previously, this involved completing a WTN to:

  • provide a written description of waste on its transfer from one person or establishment to another;
  • ensure a clear audit trail throughout the process from waste production to disposal, as outlined in section 34(1)(c) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and
  • fulfil part of the overall duty of care.

However, amendments under the 2014 Regulations (in force from 6 April 2014), alter existing law so that simply a “written description of the waste (‘written information’)” is necessary. This information (be it electronic or hard copy) will be compliant provided it:

  • identifies the waste it relates to using the appropriate pre-established code;
  • gives a description of the waste, including its quantity and storage arrangements;
  • states the time and place of transfer;
  • includes the transferor’s SIC code;
  • gives the transferor and transferee’s name, address and signatures;
  • explains the role/status of the transferor and transferee; and
  • (from 6 October 2014) confirms the transferor has discharged its duty of care.

The Environment Agency (the EA) estimates that approximately 23 million WTNs are produced annually and, due to record retention requirements, over 50 million WTNs exist at any one time. Accordingly, Defra launched a six-week consultation in December 2013 and approached over 700 stakeholders to gather views on its proposals for reducing the burden imposed on businesses.  When asked whether allowing other documentation would provide any benefits, over 60 percent of respondents were against the change. They expressed concern that the amendments would cause confusion, create difficulties when checking compliance, and be deemed a relaxation of the rules by unscrupulous firms. However, Defra has justified its decision to proceed by emphasising the cost benefits, reduced administrative and time pressures, and the fact parties can still use traditional WTNs if desired. The consultation report explains: “Given…the Red Tape Challenge to provide for alternatives to WTNs and the support of businesses including key stakeholders such as the Federation of Small Business and the National Farmers Union, Defra and Welsh Government intend to proceed…[and] allow alternative documentation to be used”.

This new flexible approach comes following the EA’s launch of its online Edoc system on 29 January 2014. The system allows WTNs to be created, shared, edited, signed and stored electronically. It was developed in partnership with waste industry operators and a number of other UK public bodies, including Defra, the Waste Resources Action Programme and Natural Resources Wales. Edoc is a free-to-use system for any business in the UK that produces waste, is involved in transporting business waste, or has a role in managing business waste. Although it remains voluntary to use, the online system appears relatively intuitive, user-friendly, and brings a number of benefits.

Making the WTN process quicker and its recording easier has long been an aim of Defra and the EA, with both of the above measures appearing to be a ‘step’ in the right direction. For more information, contact the Planning and Environment team at Walker Morris.