EA closes Definition of Waste Panel

20 DECEMBER 2016

Back in October, the Environment Agency announced that the Definition of Waste panel would close temporarily due to a backlog of work. At the time, there were concerns that this would become permanent which has now proved to be the case with an email issued by the EA this morning:

'Dear customer
The Definition of Waste Panel is closed until further notice whilst its role and purpose is reviewed in the context of our waste regulation strategy.
Guidance on determining the waste status of your material can be found here: 
Please circulate to anyone who may be affected by the closure of the panel.
We will update our web text to reflect the above message in due course.
We do not have a timescale for any further updates or when the outcome of the review will be known.
Thank you
The raises an interesting dilemma for businesses wishing to 'do the right thing' by applying the waste hierarchy and preventing material that has further life becoming waste. For many businesses, the risk of making the wrong decision meant that they would only use what might previously had been classed as waste as a raw material if it was officially sanctioned by the EA. The downside of this was that the EA would only make those decisions with what was often considered to be excessive analysis and criteria. Demanding pollution standards that were far less than natural substances, for instance. The 'Isitwaste' tool was designed to help this process but many find this an unwieldy process that again, struggles with practicalities.
The Waste Framework Directive applies three basic tests to determine end of waste, listed on the GOV.UK end-of-waste page:
  • the waste has been converted into a distinct and marketable product that will definitely be used
  • the processed substance can be used in exactly the same way as a non-waste
  • the processed substance can be stored and used with no worse environmental effects when compared to the material it is intended to replace

In theory, this assessment should be relatively easy, but in practice, it is often difficult to determine with absolute certainty that there may be no worse harmful effects compared to virgin material.

With the Circular Economy pushing hard for resource efficiency and product longetivity, it must surely be time to take a more relaxed position on materials that have an obvious use that is being questioned simply because it is waste. Upcycling, for instance, would not be practical if every workshop making lamps out of bicycle wheels needed a Permit. But as always, it is those that use the openings for large scale environmental abuse that then make it difficult for the EA to adopt a more liberal approach. Hopefully, though, the demise of the Panel will open the door to a common sense attitude to enforcement by the EA.