EA publishes ‘resource framework’ guidance

On 6th January, the Environment Agency (EA) announced that operators can make a request for a resource framework which will assist them in identifying the point at which fully recovered waste becomes a non-waste product which can be used in specific markets without the need for waste regulation controls.

The move follows action taken by the EA to review its waste quality protocols (QPs), a decision which has led to the withdrawal of some QPs.

QP review

In December 2020, the EA announced that it intended to undertake a review its waste QPs to bring them up to date, ensuring that they meet current technical standards and include the latest best practice. The review process requires the EA to assess each QP to determine whether it needs to be revised, withdrawn or, if there are no amendments to be made, be republished. Revising each QP is time consuming; a ‘task and finish group’ with the industry has to be set up, a comprehensive technical assessment of what is required to ensure that end of waste is met must be undertaken, and the legislation, current information, technologies and scientific evidence must be taken into account. The cost for setting up and running the task and finish group is to be borne by the industry.

Whilst a QP is being revised, operators can continue to use it until a new resources framework is agreed or the QP is withdrawn. A QP will be withdrawn if an agreement is not reached between the industry and the EA or in circumstances where the task and finish group is not set up within the scheduled timeframe (date listed in the ‘completed QP reviews’). Thus far, QP reviews have been undertaken for anaerobic digestate, compost, poultry litter ash, aggregates from inert wastes, processed fuel oil and tyre derived rubber material. The outcome of each review is that the QP needs revising, and in the case of processed fuel oil, a decision has been made to withdraw the QP pending the set-up of a task and finish group, which must be in place by 1st April.

Requesting a resource framework

The service is aimed at those handling waste which is no longer covered by a valid QP. The guidance indicates, however, that the costs involved in making such a request may be substantial. It advises that the time and cost will vary depending on the complexity of the request, but the EA estimates that an average request will take a minimum of 12-18 months and will likely cost more than £40,000. The EA offers an initial advice service and is prepared to offer up to one hour advice for free, beyond which, they will charge for any further advice.

The guidance indicates that whilst a waste resource framework is advisable and will aid businesses to reduce waste, support the circular economy as well as potentially helping operators to comply with their permit, operators handling waste for which there is no resource framework or QP can use the EA’s guidance on checking whether their material is waste. Alternatively, they can get an opinion from the Environment Agency’s definition of waste service.

Preparing a request

In order to facilitate the EA’s assessment of the request and to allow them to determine whether the request is suitable, operators will need to provide a suite of information. The guidance provides 8 points which must be covered, including a summary of the waste streams the resource framework will apply to, the final uses of markets for the waste derived material, a list of benefits for the new resource framework which must include details such as the annual tonnage of the waste stream, the regulatory savings likely to be achieved through deregulation, the positive economic benefit and any savings through diverting from landfill.

Operators must also supply a full composition analysis including the waste derived material and the comparator material. Given the amount and type of detail required to make a request, it is likely that operators will have to engage consultants in order to ensure that the information supplied is thorough, accurate and satisfies the eight points set out in the guidance. Requests and accompanying information are to be sent to resourcesframeworks@environment-agency.gov.uk, subsequent to which the operator will be contacted and asked to agree to the terms and conditions of service and pay an initial £900 fee for a suitability check.

Suitability check

Once the initial fee has been paid, the EA will consider whether the request is suitable for a resource framework. This assessment involves the EA considering whether there is already a framework for the material type, whether the proposed framework will undermine or adversely impact the wider environmental regulation, whether it is for legitimate reasons and is workable and any issues raised in previous requests for the same waste stream. The EA will also need to consider whether it has the time, money and capacity to complete the project as well as determining whether there is clear evidence showing that the project has enough financial support for it to be completed. If the EA does not deem the proposal to be suitable, they must give the operator reasons for this. If they do think it is suitable, they will contact the operator and let them know that they intend to begin the full assessment process.

Full assessment process

There a number of steps in the process. The EA will need to set up a technical advisory group (TAG) and create a risk assessment and financial impact assessment (operator to pay any costs involved). The risk and financial assessment will be peer reviewed by the TAG who will then discuss the assessment with the EA and agree on any changes needed. A technical report will be produced advising whether the resource framework is viable, and the EA will determine whether it agrees with this finding.

If it does, the EA will draft the resource framework in conjunction with TAG, subsequent to which a public consultation will be held on the framework, financial impact and risk assessment. The consultation responses will be considered and any amendments to the framework will be agreed with TAG. The EA will then publish the resource framework on the gov.uk website. It should be noted that any decisions made by the EA with regards to resource frameworks cannot be appealed, albeit this does not prevent an operator from making a complaint through the usual complaint procedure.