Is There A Hazardous Waste Iceberg?

Luke-PrazskyLuke Prazsky, technical director and waste resource management specialist at Wardell Armstrong, turns his attention to hazardous waste and asks what would happen if we suddenly discovered we had more than we thought…


Caution-hazardous-waste-signIs there a hazardous waste iceberg? Are we under recording the amount of hazardous waste we produce? What would the impact be if we suddenly found we had more than previously thought? And might there have been an environmental impact if we have been mistakenly classifying hazardous waste as non-hazardous?

You would hope that deciding on whether waste was hazardous was a simple process allowing quick and accurate decision making. It isn’t. Anyone who has tried to undertake an assessment of whether a waste is hazardous will appreciate that this is not an easy task. Technical Guidance WM3 “Guidance on the classification and assessment of waste”, issued in May 2015, stretches to 185 pages; with the CLP Regulations, on which it relies, running to over 1,000 pages and several amendments.

It concerns me that the guidance is not suitable for everyone to be able to make the right call each time. Luckily for myself I have some very bright colleagues here at Wardell Armstrong LLP who understand the intricacies of the guidance and have the experience and expertise to be able to complete assessments properly.

We should also not underestimate the financial impact of classifying waste as hazardous. With very limited numbers of suitably permitted facilities where hazardous wastes can go and UK gate fees priced accordingly.

Too Many Examples…

For these reasons there are likely to be countless examples of people misclassifying waste. Common examples we are aware of include disregarding the guidance and instead using the hazardous landfill Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC) to classify waste, failing to realise that WAC relate to the potential for contaminants to leach from landfills into groundwater and are not at all related to the immediate hazards posed by the waste material in question.

People may also rely on the old H codes not realising that these are not directly transposed into HP codes which must now be used. Calculation errors are also common, for example, not converting metal concentrations to compound concentrations or not taking into account moisture content correctly. And in some cases people simply pick any description on the list of wastes that looks right, without realising that mirror entries require proper assessment to assign the correct code.

These common mistakes all point towards there being more hazardous waste out there than thought. It means we may need more treatment/disposal facilities for hazardous waste in the UK or our exports will need to increase; though a “hard Brexit” will mean that we may not be able to send much of this to Europe as easily as we do currently.

Certainly, post Brexit, if we would want to continue to do business with Europe we can change our legislation and technical standards all we like but in the end waste classification and handling will need to continue to comply with European standards for export to European facilities.

I am also concerned that there has been an unnecessary environmental impact from our treating or disposing of hazardous waste incorrectly because we thought it was non-hazardous. Getting a handle on what the likely environmental impact might have been from this is likely to be a very subjective issue and we are probably better off focussing on ways to make sure that things are improved from this point onwards and wastes are managed according to their risk to the environment.

So how should we deal with this issue? Maybe only “suitably qualified persons” should be allowed to make the final decision? Maybe waste facilities receiving wastes should undertake a more robust pre-acceptance assessment themselves? Or could we just make the assessment simpler? Is that feasible?


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