Women’s Recycling Alliance’s – Environmental law seminar for the waste industry

On 4 November, Women’s Recycling Alliance (WRA) took its annual conference online, with delegates from the world of waste and recycling gathering to discuss some of the industry’s most pertinent issues.

Leading the afternoon’s discussion was Jonathon Bell, a waste and recycling lawyer at Fieldfisher. His hour-long session provided an overview of the seven steps which the Environment Agency could implement prior to prosecution or revocation, and how operators should act at each of those seven steps.

Compliance points

An environmental permit is an essential asset within the waste industry. Compliance years run from April to April, and any permit breaches during that time will attract compliance points.

‘Major’ incidents carry 60 points, with 30 handed down for ‘significant’ infringements, four for ‘minor’ and 0.1 for ‘no potential.’ A banding system running from A-F reflects the number of compliance points, and they can increase the fee paid for an operator’s licence, by as much as 300%.

Amenity breaches – such as odour, noise, dust, pests and litter – can be especially damaging to a compliance record, because once scored, they attract 30 points for each month they are scored thereafter. The Environment Agency must attend and substantiate all amenity breaches, and it is normally a requirement of the permit that they establish whether appropriate measures have been taken.

Operators can, and should, write to the Environment Agency to appeal compliance points – and to request further review if necessary. The EA’s  534_10 Guidance is a good source of information to establish if the visiting officer complied with the Environment Agency’s guidance notes when conducting the compliance assessment report.

Could I end up in court?

Compliance points are just one of the seven ways in which the Environment Agency can build a legal case against an operator – they also include Environment Agency-led permit variations, Regulation 36 and 37 notices, PACE interviews, collection of evidence, prosecution and/or permit revocation.

If your environmental permit is revoked, the best course of action is to appeal the decision within the 21-days. Once an appeal is lodged you can continue to operate pending the outcome of the appeal – which could take up to nine months.

Prosecutions can result in prison sentences of up to two years or unlimited fines, even in the Magistrates’ court.

The average fine following an EA prosecution is over £100,000, but they have the potential to be much higher. For example, Thames Water was penalised £1m for polluting the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire from July 2012 to April 2013.

What does Fieldfisher do?

Environmental liability affects every business, regardless of size. For many, this has become a central risk management issue, requiring experienced, knowledgeable advice to guide companies through increasingly complicated regulations.

Changes in the global political landscape, variations in regulatory regimes and the growth of corporate environmental accountability and responsibility mean that environmental issues can have a substantial impact on reputation.

As such, it’s the job of environmental lawyers to advise national and multinational companies, including industrial operators, property developers, urban regenerators and investors, on how to comply with and exceed the environmental requirements of regulators and stakeholders.

The firm also acts for government departments and agencies, local planning authorities, statutory undertakers and utilities, advising on the environmental aspects of what are often critical national and international projects. Find out more, here: https://www.fieldfisher.com

If you’d like to find out more about the WRA and how to join, visit our dedicated webpage. The WRA is a platform to meet and network with like-minded professionals and discuss industry topics.

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