Not just for factories - your overview of key environmental rules that could affect daily business

By: Kathryn Skinner

Date: 23 April 2012

Any business’s daily operations can have an adverse effect on the health of not just the environment, but also on your workers and neighbours.

Most rules placed on businesses are designed to prevent noise, air, water, and land pollution. Whether you operate a small business or large-scale industrial business, some environmental rules almost certainly apply to your business - here are the central environmental regulations that you may well need to check out.

Air pollution prevention

Air pollution can come from a variety of sources in your business, and some activities - installation of furnaces, chimney smoke, and sulphur content of fuels - are regulated to limit air pollution caused by businesses. Burning waste oil or producing fuel is also regulated above and beyond standard air pollution controls.

You may need to make modifications to your equipment or apply for a permit. For example, you will need environmental permits if your business has appliances that when combined have a thermal input of 50 megawatts or more.

If your business is located in a smoke control area, such as most cities, you will need to meet stricter air pollution prevention guidelines. To find out if you are located in a smoke control area, contact your local authority.

Waste disposal

Waste disposal regulations apply to all waste your business produces, as regulated by The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011. This mandates how waste is stored, transported, and disposed of. When storing waste, it must be kept in labelled, secure containers so that it does not blow away, get rained on, or leak out. Containers should be stored on impermeable surfaces to prevent contents from contaminating the ground or groundwater or flowing into drains.

Thanks to a recent legal change, only registered waste carriers may transport your waste, unless you transport it yourself following the rules, and most waste management facilities need an environmental permit. It is your responsibility to keep documented proof that your waste transporter and disposal collection facility have the appropriate registrations and permits. When setting up waste transport and disposal, ask to see the registration and permits and make copies for your own records.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations

Few businesses are exempt from the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 (WEEE). The regulations apply to any business that manufactures, imports, exports, sells, or uses electronic equipment, such as computers, mobiles, or household and industrial appliances.

WEEE rules act to stop mercury, lead, and cadmium found in electronic equipment from being disposed of in landfills where they leach into the ground and poison the earth and water. The rules also aim to increase recycling.

How WEEE affects a business greatly depends on whether your company produces or uses the electronics and when those electronics were purchased. In most cases, electronic equipment sold after 13 August 2005 becomes the producer’s responsibility for proper disposal and recycling.

Noise and nuisances

While being a statutory nuisance, isn’t strictly defined, Business Link explains that “A nuisance can be any action or failure to act, which interferes with people's use and enjoyment of land or property, or that could have a negative effect on health.”

Excessive noise, vibrations, smoke, odours, stagnant water, insect infestations, litter, an unkempt property, and bright lights are just some of statutory nuisances that are regulated by the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act of 1993. Local environmental health officers and individual neighbours can bring statutory nuisance complaints via abatement notices and through the courts.

Liquid waste

Any liquid other than water – such as cooking oils or detergents - that end up in the sewage system, on the ground, in local waterways, or otherwise discharged from your business is a trade effluent, regulated by The Trade Effluents (Prescribed Processes and Substances) Regulations 1989.

Trade effluents can also include solids in liquids and chemicals. You will need a consent or agreement with your water and sewerage company to get rid of them, and you may also need an agreement with the Environment Agency.

Of course, some liquids cannot be disposed of through the sewage system without first being treated onsite, or must be disposed of as a hazardous waste material. The Environment Agency and water and sewerage company can help businesses determine how they can dispose of waste liquids.

Packaging waste

Including boxes, crates, bags, and binding materials, whether you use packaging in the products you sell or take delivery of a lot of packaged items, you need to work to reduce and recycle that packing material.

Packaging is anything that’s designed to contain or carry an item, and the rules require a certain percentage be recyclable and other properties of the material to limit its disposal in landfills. To comply with packaging regulations, keep documentation and information about the packaging design and how you recycle or otherwise dispose of your packaging.

Hazardous substances

Hazardous substances include such daily materials such as solvents, pesticides, oil, and electrical components. If you use these at work, you will be required to comply with regulations mandated by the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990 on all aspects of their use, storage, transport, and disposal to protect the environment and the people that come in contact with the substances.

What substances your business uses and how you use them will determine which specific rules affect you. You may need to comply with the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) Regulations, Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Regulations, and the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD).

For many of these regulated business activities, a permit through the Environment Agency is required. Noncompliance for any environmental regulations can result in costly fines.

Kathryn Skinner is a waste management and environmental expert for General Waste Collection.

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