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Pesticide waste management

Course: Pesticide management | Last Updates: 7th October 2015

Patrick Goldsworthy, MBE
Independent Consultant
Biography >>

Regulations on how to handle pesticide waste have changed, as there is clear evidence that poor disposal practice can result in pesticides reaching water.

It is a legal obligation that every spray operator and farm manager knows and follows the statutory requirements. Those who don’t risk hefty penalties that can now be deducted through their Single Farm Payment.

The Environment Agency regulates farm pesticide waste in England and Wales. There are slightly differing requirements in Scotland and Northern Ireland, regulated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

What is pesticide waste?

Any substance or material that comes into contact with either neat or dilute pesticide should be considered potentially hazardous and handled accordingly. That includes sprayer washings and protective clothing, as well as pesticide containers. Any pesticide material that is not applied to the crop should, therefore, be treated as pesticide waste.

There are six types of waste to be managed:

  • Unwanted or unapproved pesticides
  • Surplus dilute spray solution
  • Interior sprayer washings
  • Exterior sprayer washings
  • Used containers, foil seals, lids and packaging
  • Personal protective equipment.

Often, professional disposal is the only or best solution, but this can be costly, especially if waste is classified as hazardous. This cost can be minimised by taking steps to cut the amount of waste and ensure materials are cleaned to reduce the risk of them being classed as hazardous. The best place for any approved pesticide is on the crop, used as directed on the label.

Three golden rules

  1. Minimise waste – plan areas and volumes carefully. Order and mix only what you need.
  2. Keep it clean – thoroughly wash containers and your sprayer inside and out and try to put as much of the washings on the crop as you can.
  3. Keep it contained – where you cannot safely apply dilute pesticide to the field, ensure it cannot reach surface or groundwater.

Unwanted and unapproved pesticides

You should check the approval status of your stock at least twice a year.

Look for containers that are losing their labels, products which are no longer needed because of cropping changes, part-filled or deteriorating containers – these are the ones you don’t want to have hanging around in your store.

The latest information on product approvals can usually be found at, or you can check on manufacturers’ websites or with your agronomist.

When a product’s approval is revoked or lapses, there is usually – but not always – a period of about a year to use up stock. Make sure you stay informed and use up any pesticide before the last safe use by date.

To avoid potential problems, it’s best to run a minimal stock policy and use up part containers first. Never use unapproved product. The only option if you find you’re left with some is to use a licensed waste disposal contractor.

Surplus spray solution

Before you fill up the tank, ensure your areas and spray volumes are accurately calculated and mix just enough to complete the task. Normally there shouldn’t be any surplus so, if there is, check field areas and sprayer calibration.

If you still find you’re left with surplus solution, identify a reserve or a low priority area of the field where the solution can be sprayed. This could be back over the treated crop, provided maximum dose is not exceeded, or on a designated area authorised by the Environment Agency under the Groundwater Regulations (see below).

The solution could also go to a fully contained washdown area with your spray washings – pending collection or treatment – or to a lined biobed.

Interior sprayer washings

Tank-rinse nozzles are an effective way to clean the interior of the tank using minimal water volumes, and they speed up the process. Washings should then be treated as dilute spray solution. The options to dispose of them are the same as those for surplus spray solution.

Exterior sprayer washings

The most effective way to safely clean the sprayer is to fit a hose and brush attachment to it, with a water tank. You should clean after every day’s spraying, and remember the back of the sprayer and booms is where most deposits occur.

Cleaning can be carried out on a concrete area that drains to a sump or lined biobed, or preferably should take place in the field. If in the field you should ensure the immediate area is not compacted or the soil is not deeply cracked, the site is at least 10m (33ft) away from the nearest watercourse and it is not above tile or field drains.

When you have completed your cleaning routine, remember to park the sprayer under cover – rainwater can wash pesticides off the sprayer and into drains.

Remember the back of the sprayer and booms are where most deposits occur. Also park the newly-cleaned sprayer under cover to avoid rainwater washing pesticides off.

Used Pesticide Containers

Since 2006, unlicensed burning of waste on farm, including in a drum incinerator, and the use of farm tips have been illegal. As long as containers are thoroughly cleaned they should be treated as non-hazardous waste and can be removed for recycling or disposal.

To be classed as non-hazardous waste, containers must be pressure-washed or triple-rinsed until they are visibly clean. They should be washed and given plenty of draining time while you fill the sprayer and washings should go into the spray tank. Don’t leave containers to dry out before you wash them.

Bags should be thoroughly emptied, with the creases pulled out. If there’s a water-proof lining, consider rinsing smaller bags. Certain containers, such as those for gassing powders, should not be washed, but filled with dry earth before disposal by a ?licensed contractor.

Foil seals should also be washed. Waste may need to be separated according to type, keeping paper and cardboard separate from plastics, check the instructions from your waste disposal company. Containers should be left upright, with caps off, in a secure compound or recycling bin ready for collection.

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be treated as contaminated, so professional waste disposal is the only option for used or soiled PPE. When washing gloves or face guards, remember the washings will also contain pesticides, so should be treated as dilute spray solution.

Collection sump disposal

Liquid in the sump should be only dilute pesticides and washings. These will be of no greater concentration than spray solution. The options are removal by a waste disposal company, spraying on a designated area on-farm or treatment through a lined biobed.

A designated area requires a permit under Groundwater Regulations and may only be used following approval by the Environment Agency. Typically these sites will be uncropped grassed areas (not stubble or fallow) and well away from waterways, ditches, ponds, drains and environmentally sensitive areas.

The cost, if discharging less than 5000 litres/day and if less than 30,000 litres/year in total, is set to rise. Before 1 April 2010, the application fee is £124.00 and the annual renewal fee is £152.33. However, after 1 April 2010, the application fee rises to £390 and the annual fee will be £153.90.

The permit is valid indefinitely, though subject to EA review. Lined biobeds require a waste exemption. You must keep records of disposal activity.

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