28 March 1997

When a load of rubbish can

mean trouble

THAT pile of stock feed may have been in the corner of the yard for weeks – its now rotting and is no use to anyone.

So what do you do with it? There may be trouble ahead for farmers who believe they have no problems with such waste disposal issues.

The 1994 Waste Management Regulations are now in force. They incorporate previous European directives and there is more to them than merely dealing with municipal rubbish tips – they apply equally to anything discarded from agriculture. And as well as the new laws, there is a new regulator – the Environment Agency, which took over the waste functions previously exercised by county councils – to ensure that they are kept.

"Nearly every waste product of the agricultural process is now classified as "directive waste"," explains Philip Kratz, who heads the planning and environmental unit at East Anglian law firm Taylor Vinters.

"This means the way waste is stored, treated, transferred, deposited and disposed of are all processes which the Environment Agency has a right to know about. There is more to unauthorised waste disposal than fly-tipping in ditches or dumping rubbish in lay-bys.

"A farmer who disposes of his unwanted mountain of stock feed for example, by burial without proper authority, may find out that he has created an illegal landfill site."

In practice, the answer would involve a Waste Management Licence. This puts all processes and disposal processes on public record.

"The application can be a long business, and there are strict criteria to be met," explains Mr Kratz. "It is not possible to get a licence if the process is in breach of planning control or if the activity will potentially harm the local environment. Furthermore, the licence can be revoked or varied at any time."

Offence committed

So, be warned; if you do not have a licence and you decide to carry out your own waste disposal, you are committing an offence and are liable to prosecution – a potentially serious matter.

Triable either summarily in the Magistrates Court or on indictment in the Crown Court, the maximum penalties on summary conviction are imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding £20,000 – or both. And on conviction on indictment, imprisonment not exceeding two years or an unlimited fine, or both.

However, some types of waste disposal are exempt. For example, waste kept at a place of production pending treatment or disposal, and some recycling operations do not need a licence.

In addition, there is a procedure for registration of the use of waste materials in agricultural practises, which allow up to 250t/ha a year of certain types of waste to be spread on agricultural land.

These include soil, compost, plant matter or lime – but an exemption must be applied for before the waste is spread.

"Do not assume no one will notice what you are doing, or that once you have a licence you can ignore what it says," advises Mr Kratz.

"The Environment Agency is an animal with much sharper teeth than its predecessors. Once it has unearthed a problem, you could easily find yourself the subject of a formal investigation and ultimately in court facing hefty fines and a lot of bad press."