Environmental Protection Act 1990
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 relates to how waste is managed and how emissions into the environment should be controlled.
Part 1 of the Act defines general guidelines which were created by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2008 can set limitations on any process which creates emissions.
Previously enforcement of emissions was the responsibility of local authorities and the HM Inspectorate of Pollution. From 1996, the Environment Agency took over.
Part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 relates to the licensing and regulation for the suitable disposal of controlled waste on land.
In this context, controlled waste refers to industrial, commercial or household waste and prohibits the unauthorized disposal, treatment or depositing of waste in a prohibited area.
The legislation also places an obligation through a duty of care on manufacturers, carriers, treatment or disposal specialists or those who import products to manage controlled waste to avoid harmful or unauthorised activities when it comes to the disposal of waste.
The Act also specifies that the Secretary of State must create and implement a National Waste Strategy to be enforced throughout England and Wales.
The local authority of each county in the country is directly responsible for the collection of controlled waste and where possible, recycle as much as possible.
Households and businesses who fail to cooperate with this legislation can be subject to penalties.
Part 2 of the Act also includes section A which outlines a strategy to deal with contaminated land.
Part 3 defines what is known as a set of statutory nuisances when a local authority can require the business or individual to take action over contaminated land
Part 4 of the Act relates to criminal offences relating to litter
Part 5 will outline rules that define statutory notifications and risk assessments for Genetically Modified Organisms. Duties are placed on individuals or businesses relating to the acquisition, import, release, marketing or keeping of any Genetically Modified Organisms.
If the Secretary of State has sufficient grounds, they can ban specific GMOs if they believe that they will cause damage to the environment.
Part 6 established three new organisations including the Nature Conservancy Council for England, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland.
Since the legislation has been introduced, there have been many Fixed Penalty Notices issued for individuals who have been found guilty of breaching the legislation either through littering or any of the other offences which are governed by the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The EPA Explained
Instructions from the Waste Framework Directive from the European Union have been implemented in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 across England, Wales and Scotland.
The purpose of the legislation was to establish greater control over pollution and strengthen enforcement powers with higher penalties.
Part 1 Prescribed processes and substances
Created through the Environmental Protection (Processes and Substances) Regulations 1991, this legislation allows the Secretary of State to define regulations to remedy emission standards for particular processes or substances.
Once a specific process has been identified it can only be carried out once permission has been sought from an enforcing authority. An application must be made to an authority who may be well within their rights to refuse authorisation or grant it but with specific conditions.
At any point the authority can either rescind their permission or vary the conditions of the application. The operator on the other hand can also apply to have a variation to the conditions.
Through the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007, the regulations from 1991 were revoked and permissions are now decided by the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations from 2010.
Enforcing the Legislation
Processes are subject to control by the Environment Agency or local authority but only in relation to atmospheric pollution. Enforcing authorities are able to offer an enforcement or prohibition notice on anyone who fails to comply. Additionally there are also penalties associated with non-compliance including fines and even imprisonment. Operators are able to appeal decisions about any conditions, enforcement or authorization as well as prohibition to the Secretary of State who may instruct that an inquiry or hearing is held.
All authorities who enforce this legislation must provide the public with data on applications, enforcement and authorizations, provided that there are no risks to national security or confidentiality.
Part 2 Disposal of Controlled Waste on Land
Waste can be defined as any item or substance which are defined in schedule 2b. Controlled waste on the other hand is anything commercial, industrial or household waste item. The legislation states that to discard something has a very specific meaning. The term discard must be used in respect of Directive 75/442 which aims to safeguard the environment and human health against the harmful effects which can result from the storage, tipping, transportation, collection or treatment of waste.
The legislation prohibits anyone from keeping, disposing or treating controlled waste that can result in pollution to the environment or a risk to human health. With the exception of household waste that is kept or disposed of in a residential property, individuals are not permitted to;
- Deposit any controlled waste or knowingly allow controlled waste to be deposited on any land unless they have acquired a suitable waste management licence which has authorised the individual to deposit the waste
- Keep, dispose of or treat any controlled waste or allow controlled waste to be kept, disposed of or treated on any land or mobile plant
Duty of Care
Anyone with the responsibility of producing, carrying, treating, keeping or importing controlled waste ought to take all necessary steps to;
- Prevent any breach of the legislation by any other person
- Prevent any contravention of the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations
- Implement strategies to avoid the escape of waste
- Ensure that any transfer of waste is carried out only by an authorised person and mode of transport and a written description of waste has been provided
The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 state that any transfer of controlled waste must have a transfer note. The transfer notes must be kept for a period of two years and available for an enforcement authority to view if they are requested.
Section 45 of the legislation places an obligation on waste collection authorities which is usually the local authority to safely collect household waste and where permitted, commercial waste. Industrial waste can only be collected through the necessary waste disposal authority.
Collecting household waste is free of charge unless charges apply for the collection of specific waste items. Local authorities have the right to specify what householders can dispose of and what bin they must use. Fixed Penalty Notices can be issued for failure to observe these requirements.
It is against the law to sort through waste without the consent of the owner that has been left for collection by the local authority. Unless the waste is to be recycled, authorities must make the necessary arrangements for the disposal of waste correctly.
After 31 December 2010, a local authority should make arrangements to collect at least two types of recyclable material unless there are significant obstacles such as costs for doing so. Waste authorities can then make suitable arrangements to recycle the collected waste, use it for heat or electricity or procure waste for the purpose of recycling.
Part 2A Contaminated Land
Contaminated land is described as any land where there is a possible or actual risk of harm being caused or there is a substantial amount of pollution to the environment
A local authority has a duty to regularly carry out surveys of land, designating any areas of contamination as a special site. The local authority should then serve a remediation notice as required.
Part 3 Statutory Nuisance
There are many statutory notices in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which can cause a nuisance and/or have a detrimental impact on health including;
- Any premises which Premises which pose a risk due to their activity
- Smoke which is emitted
- Gases or fumes emitted
- Dust, steam, smells or effluvia on an industrial estate or business
- Accumulation or deposits
- Animals kept in a manner which can cause problems
- Noise from a property
- Noise from machinery, equipment or vehicles
If a member of the public raises concern about a statutory nuisance, the local authority have a duty to investigate. If they find in favour of the complainant they can serve the perpetrator with an abatement notice to cease causing a nuisance. It is a criminal offence to ignore the notice and offenders can be punished with a Level 5 fine which rises by 10% for each day that the notice is ignored and the nuisance persists.
Part 4 Littering
Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 states that it is a criminal offence to drop, deposit or throw away litter. Under Section 87 there is a controversial system of Fixed Penalty Notices which can be issued by local authorities for anyone who contravenes this legislation in a public place.
Fixed Penalty Notices can vary depending on the local authority and can result in a £50-£100 fine. The offender has a specified timeframe in which to pay and if they do not they will be taken to court where they will incur additional costs.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is very complex with a number of different parts. This guide has covered some of the most commonly applied pieces of legislation and are the ones which are often enforced by local authorities.
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This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.