01 September 2020

Now you would be forgiven for assuming environmental protection and environmental regulation would be inextricably connected. That the primary objective of environmental regulation was to provide protection to the environment. However, in my work as an environmental consultant over the last 20 years or so, I have seen an increase in instances where the focus of enforcement of regulation appears to have little to no basis in environmental protection. Coupled with increasing penalties for falling foul of environmental regulators, this is an ominous prospect for operators of waste sites.

Don't get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support the regulation of our waste industry and feel that we largely have adequate and effective regulation in place. But, when I repeatedly have to deal with situations between regulators and operators that have little connection to environmental protection and more to do with the correct bit of paper, being in the right place at the right time, it simply boils my blood. Especially when this results in operators being subject to harsh penalties, when no environmental harm is evident or even suspected, compared to blatant waste criminals who have caused obvious environmental harm.

So how can operators protect themselves from such liabilities? It comes down to knowledge and a good amount of documentation.

So, let's deal with knowledge first. Ignorance is never an acceptable excuse. And by the way, it is not the job of the regulator to make you aware of the regulatory requirements for your operations. While they may give you advice, they will take no responsibility if their advice is wrong and then may seek to prosecute you for getting it wrong as a result! Get independent advice from an experienced consultant, put yourself on courses, talk to other operators in the industry, get involved with industry associations and consult guidance documents.

Having the correct documentation is crucially important. This generally starts with the Environmental Permit and goes all the way down to the records you keep that evidence the implementation of procedures on site. Such procedures should form part of your Environmental Management System (EMS) along with risk assessments, emission management plans and other documents.

I often find that, even the most diligent, waste site operators find EMS paperwork a challenge and don’t have a full understanding of what their Environmental Permit allows them to do. These operators are at risk from inadvertently operating unlawfully which could lead to increased permit costs and potential prosecution.

I explore both of these subjects in a webinar series that I am running on 10th and 12th November. This short webinar series will help attendees understand Environmental Permits and what an EMS should look like and how to implement it. To register your place or find out more, click here.