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Rules for waste disposal are changing – what you need to know

October 30, 2020

By Chris Berryman

Delays to the withdrawal of RPS 211 have meant uncertainties surrounding excavated wastes. So, what does the future look like?

In the UK, Regulatory Position Statement 211 (RPS211) has long been relied upon by utility companies and contractors who deal with excavated wastes. It has allowed for small volumes (up to 10m3) of waste to be automatically classified as non-hazardous by default, without the need for extensive classification and/or testing from unplanned utility installation and repair works.

However, the Environment Agency (EA) plans to withdraw this regulatory standard. Originally set to be revoked in early 2019, it has been delayed on several occasions. It was announced more recently the intention to withdraw RPS211 at the end of April 2020, which was subsequently further delayed until 31 October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EA have now confirmed withdrawal on 31 January 2021.

What does it mean?

The repeal of RPS211 requires that companies that are producing, transporting, keeping, processing, controlling, using or disposing of excavated waste from unplanned utilities installation or repair works will now be required to classify their waste – regardless of volume. This is just one step in reducing the risk of inappropriate material fate and ultimately non-complaint or criminal activity.

Classifying, and the eventual disposal (or re-use/recovery) of waste with appropriate environmental standards in mind could allow an organisation the opportunity to pay significantly lower ‘disposal’ costs.

The position statement has been known widely as only a temporary measure, to allow industry to develop its own protocol. Currently, Street Works UK is working on just that. Their purpose? To provide direction to navigate the steps and compliance requirements upon the withdrawal of RPS211. Since 2017, the EA has provided advice and guidance to Street Works UK to guide the development of the protocol. Street Works UK is undertaking a programme of material classification and testing to develop a ‘waste profile’ to educate all – from the utility company, to the contractor, to the landfill operator. It is anticipated that the agency will share completed guidance by late 2020.

We have been seeking clarification on the EA’s current position directly and through positions on a number of industry waste working groups. Following our most recent correspondence, it did appear that the EA was considering a further six-month extension to the planned withdrawal. However, on 29 October they confirmed that RPS211 would come to an end on 31 January 2021.

A predicted further delay was encouraging. This would have given the utility industry the necessary time to plan for the withdrawal, particularly considering the current pressures faced across industry and within the EA due to COVID-19. Additionally, we wait now for the opportunity to see Street Works UK’s protocol before this new withdrawal date. Utility companies will benefit from a detailed list of steps to navigate this change, so they are not left in an uncertain position.

 

Planning ahead and understanding classification and testing requirements early will be essential. The cost implications alone will be significant.

Planning for next steps

Despite this temporary reprieve, utility companies and organisations handling excavated wastes further down the supply chain continue to be advised to understand what the withdrawal of RPS211 may mean – in terms of compliance risks, reputation, and costs. Now, everyone will be operating under the same guidelines. Previously, if you were disposing of excavated waste labelled as “not assessed and classified in reliance of RPS211” you needed to follow specific hazardous waste technical guidance. Of key importance will be for impacted industries to understand the detail of the Environment Agency’s Technical Guidance WM3 – referencing the classification and assessment of waste – which, for the inexperienced, can be a complex document to navigate.

Planning ahead and understanding classification and testing requirements early will be essential. The cost implications alone will be significant.

Repealing RPS211 and having all operate under WM3 technical guidance is a solution that is usable, helpful, fit for purpose, and most of all protects our environment. I think we can all get behind that.

Stantec will host a series of webinars in early 2021 to provide updates and training on this and other issues affecting producers and end users of Construction, Demolition and Excavation (CDE) wastes. We hope to be able to join forces with industry in delivering these and bring in other organisations to ensure a ‘voice from industry.’ If you would like to be sent information on our upcoming webinars please get in contact with us.

  • Chris Berryman

    A designer, business development leader, and published and certified professional, Chris works to improve the UK minerals and waste sectors through his knowledge and application of regulatory and permitting requirements.

    Contact Chris
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