Review of waste management exemptions: England and Wales

United Kingdom

On 31 July 2008 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a 12 week consultation on ways to improve and simplify waste exemptions from environmental permitting. The proposed changes are expected to increase waste recovery and recycling, whilst maintaining high levels of environment protection and reducing cost. Defra, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and the Environment Agency are reviewing which waste management activities can continue to operate under exemptions, and which will require a permit. The review will be of interest to any businesses involved in recycling, reuse or disposal of waste, and those interested in the greater use of cleantech in waste management.

Current regime

Formerly, waste management exemptions were governed by the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994 (as amended) and by the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations 2000. As of 6 April 2008 for England and Wales these regimes were replaced by the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007. An exemption allows certain waste management activities to be carried out without an environmental permit. Usually the exemptions are ringfenced by reference to tonnages of waste involved, certain time constraints (e.g. for storage) and other criteria. A particular waste management activity would only be exempt if it fell within such criteria.

Simple exemptions

A simple exemption is a waste management activity that is exempt from requiring an Environmental Permit and which is relatively low risk. All that they require is a notification sent to the Environment Agency. To access a list of current qualifying simple exemptions, the Agency guidance and the notification application form, click here.

Complex exemptions

A complex waste exemption covers waste management activities that are exempt from permitting but which the Agency needs to check to ensure that they will not harm the environment. Those wishing to operate under the terms of these exemptions must notify the Agency first and be able to keep to the limits specified within the exemption. The Agency will not grant an exemption until it is satisfied that proposals will meet the objectives of the exemption and will not cause pollution or harm to health. In addition, the complex exemptions are subject to an annual charge and must be annually renewed. To access the list of the current qualifying complex exemptions, the Environment Agency’s guidance and the notification application form, click here.

Why the change?

Most of the current waste management exemptions have been in place since 1994 with little or no amendment. There is a concern that they are out of date and fail to take into account technical innovations as well as recent clarifications stemming from European case law on the definition of waste. It is proposed that the current two-tier system of notifiable and simple exemptions be removed by restricting the extent of exemptions for higher risk operations. The Agency wishes to regulate higher-risk activities through one or more standard permits. So, if you have been operating at the lower-risk end of notifiable exemptions, it may be that you will be able to operate under a simple exemption.

Businesses that currently operate under an exemption

The Consultation envisages that most businesses that currently operate under an exemption will continue to do so, but may need to renew and re-register their exemptions every three years to ensure waste registers are up to date. A £50 charge would be introduced for each three-yearly registration, with a reduction for registering online. It is proposed that there will be a three-year transitional period, beginning in October 2009, to allow operators time to comply. This transitional period will be phased according to the environment risk posed by the activities (i.e. the riskier activities being phased in first). Some businesses that have previously operated under a waste management exemption, may now need to apply for a permit.

It may be that some businesses that currently require an Environmental Permit may be able to register for an exemption once the system is reformed.

Revision of waste management activities that currently do not require a permit or an exemption

It is also proposed that some waste management activities that have operated lawfully to date without a permit or exemption, having simply been “excluded” from either, will now need to register a waste management exemption for the first time. Usually they were totally exempt from permitting primarily because very small amounts of waste were involved and/or the handling of the waste was over a very short period of time. The new qualifying waste management activities would include certain waste management activities that were previously excluded (Unfortunately because of constraints on the length of this article we cannot delve into any greater detail on these aspects. Further reference should be made to the Consultation document.):

  • Some clinical waste management activities
  • Some clothing waste management
  • Some construction waste management
  • Some demolition waste management
  • Some electrical and electronic equipment waste management
  • Some food waste from retailers and producers
  • Some furniture and household waste management
  • Some hazardous waste management
  • Some waste oil management
  • Some biodiesel manufacture from waste cooking oil

Nine activities are no longer exempt

Nine of the current exempt waste management facilities would be required to apply for an environmental permit under the new proposals. These are:

  • spreading of sewage sludge on non-agricultural land;
  • spreading of industrial waste on agricultural land;
  • reclamation or improvement of land;
  • composting;
  • manufacture of construction products and soil from waste;
  • storage and use of building waste;
  • deposit of dredgings;
  • spreading of ash from pig and poultry incineration; and
  • recovery of scrap metal and the dismantling of remediated waste motor vehicles.

A number of sectors are likely to be affected. Defra has provided a number of sector-specific examples:


Under the new proposals, businesses producing more than 500 tonnes of aggregates from inert waste will require an application for a standard environmental permit. It is envisaged that the use of less than 500 tonnes of inert material in a construction works will become a simple exemption.


Some exemptions that are commonly merely registered by the agricultural sector will need to be renewed every three years. For example, burning up of 10 tonnes per day of plant matter will still operate under an exemption. However, it will need to be re-registered every three years.

As regards on-farm anaerobic digestion, a new exemption is proposed for up to 1000 tonnes of manure and slurry.

New Storage, re-use, recycling exemptions

It is proposed that in order to register a simple exemption, operators of waste management plants should be subject to limits on stored waste. The limits will depend on whether the waste is stored and processed inside or outside of buildings.

There are also plans to introduce simple exemptions for storage, re-use and re-cycling of waste. The limit for simple exemption for paper recycling, for example, will be 500 tonnes if the paper is stored outdoors and 3000 tonnes if the paper is stored indoors. It is also envisaged that simple exemptions would cover the storage, re-use or dismantling a wide range of materials destined for recovery, for example, for up to 100 tonnes of footwear or wooden pallets.

Electrical and electronic waste recycling and processing businesses will also be affected. The Agency proposes to change the re-use and refurbishment exemption, which is currently a notifiable exemption, to a simple exemption.

Stakeholder responses to the consultation must be received no later than 23 October 2008. To access the consultation click here.

We now have an alert category for the latest developments in clean technology (aka green technology or greentech). To receive these updates, please click the 'edit my choices' link under 'my profile' and select Cleantech.