Environment Agency Announcement Leaves Waste Producers in Suspense
This month the Environment Agency (EA) has announced it will conduct a full comprehensive review of the End of Waste Framework. The agency will spend the next 12-18 months scrutinising the current Quality Protocols (of which there are 13), with the potential outcomes meaning an anxious wait for waste producers (WPs). 4R Group will update you throughout with progress of reviews and the ramifications of each decision that is announced.
What is the current state of QPs?
Between 2004 and 2015, the EA published Quality Protocol’s (QPs) for a range of materials to be regarded as ‘end of waste’. These frameworks mean that waste derived material, after meeting certain technical and legal standards, can be used as non-waste products in specified markets. Being outside of waste regulation controls makes the processing of these products much smoother, and often cheaper, whilst still being safe to users and the environment.
The anaerobic digestate protocol has facilitated a large growth in that industry
Why the Review Now?
The QPs will be reviewed in stages, starting with compost, anaerobic digestate and poultry litter ash. Product-grade materials, in particular those associated with land spreading have come under fire recently with concerns about physical contamination, in particular plastics and micro plastics and the due diligence surrounding their use.
Society is increasingly become more environmentally conscious and aware about our wastes, leading to more articles and features in the media. This has brought a new focus onto the issues involved with waste-derived products, of which the QPs form a key part of the regulatory mechanism permitting their end use.
Alongside fresh attention from the public, technical and legal standards are continually moving on, and whilst associated specifications have undergone several reviews, ever-improving technologies of the waste industry have rendered some QPs out of date. All of this has led to the EA’s decision to overhaul the End of Waste Framework.
Concerns about contamination of QP materials, like plastics in compost shown above, have regularly featured in the media
How Will the Review Work?
The EA’s announcement comes with an outline of their plans for the review over the next 18 months. Materials will be reviewed individually with press releases for each with opportunities for interested parties to engage in the process.
Timeline of Quality Protocol Review start dates
Each review will follow the same steps of investigation, with several factors to be considered during the process.
Once the EA has analysed an existing QP, a decision process will begin. The following chart displays judgements that will be made during each step, including 3 possible outcomes.
Outcomes and Implications?
Each of the 3 outcomes can have vastly different implications for WPs. Each outcome here is explained further with their potential implications;
Outcome 1. The EA supports the document with its current wording or where only minor amendments are required. The QP would then be considered to be a Resources Framework and would be published on the GOV.UK website.
The first outcome is the most straightforward and generally keeps the status quo with minimal impact on WPs. At the moment, the definition of what amounts to a minor amendment has not been clarified.
Outcome 2. The EA no longer supports the QP, but Industry confirm they would wish for it to be revised and updated. This would involve a complete overhaul of the QP to bring it up to date so that it would meet the latest standards. Provided the document can be updated it would be published as a Resource Framework on GOV.UK.
The second outcome could vary wildly. Criteria of a newly final published Framework could possibly be met by minor tweaks to a production process, a complete overhaul, or anything in between.
There is little detail on the logistics of involving ‘Industry’ and what that entails, with the largest unknown being how industry as a collective of multiple producers can be brought together, fund and submit a singular application under the ‘definition of waste service’. Producers range from small scale independent sites to large-scale organisations with multiple production sites. Currently, the definition of waste service consists of a £750 upfront fee for an initial review, followed by a further cost estimate breakdown provided by the EA to complete the assessment. But the main costs will be collating and collaborating a range of comments across the sector and managing a single application to meet a wide range of individual producer objectives that is fair to everyone.
Costs associated with collating a representative and unified response, as well as the assessment fees would not guarantee the QP will be retained. If a revision is agreed but an update is not feasible, this would result in outcome 3. The example the EA gives in this case is where a revision is agreed but new end of waste tests could not be met.
Outcome 3. The EA no longer supports the QP and Industry do not wish or are unwilling to meet our costs for it to be revised. This would mean that any material produced and used in compliance with the affected QP would no longer be regarded as a non-waste product and the relevant waste regulation controls would apply. In some cases, it may also mean that the waste would be subject to HMRC's Landfill Tax requirements. (However, it may still be possible that a case by case end of waste opinion could be obtained from us through our fee paying Definition of Waste Services, but this would depend on the circumstances.)
Outcome 3 promises large scale changes for WPs, driven and funded by the industry. Environmental permitting costs including permit fees, deployment applications, consultancy costs and maintaining technical competency certifications, will all add to existing overheads. The removal of the QP may also disincentivise existing and new producers to maintain specification standards, including PAS100 and PAS110. This would be a significant backward step in terms of producing quality outputs, at present the UK has one of the most developed protocols for waste-derived organics such as composts and digestates.
The first QP to be reviewed will be compost. The following is an example of the potential extra costs for land spreading if the QP is discontinued.
A WP in England produces 10,000t of compost annually which is spread at an average application rate of 20t/ha. This means there is a requirement for 500ha of land to meet demand. EA deployments are typically limited to 50ha, therefore there needs to be 10 deployments to permit the application under Environmental Permitting Regulations as a ‘waste’. EA deployment applications cost £1,718, therefore the total extra cost would be £19,821!
That example final figure of £19,821 does not include the cost of the permit or consultancy fees, nor technical competence required for running a permit, potentially driving the final cost well over £25,000.
Addressing environmental concerns and improving technological standards is a positive move and the QP review is the first step in opening up a new opportunity to do this.
However, the outcomes could potentially cause some drastic changes in a relatively short time frame. This highlights the need for industry wide engagement from the whole scope of producers, not only for ensuring that industry have their say in the changes they wish to see, but also for maintaining the regulatory framework for applying high quality materials outside of waste regulations.
Keep posted to 4R Group for announcement updates and contact us for advice on QPs and permitting by emailing email@example.com. If you wish to have input into any of the QP reviews keep your eyes peeled for communications. You can contact the review team directly by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by forwarding your comments and input to the Organics Recycling Group at the Renewable Energy Association.
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