LARAC expresses ‘serious concern’ over new EA guidance on POPs recycling

Today (5 October), the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has shared its criticisms of the Environment Agency’s (EA) new guidance on how councils should be managing soft furnishings containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

waste furniture on road

In a letter sent to councils at the beginning of September, the EA shared guidance giving them four months to change their services when handling POP-containing furniture waste. The move aims to prevent these items from going to landfill, to be collected from the kerbside as bulky household items or be delivered by residents to HWRCs.

Coming into effect from 31 December, the change will impact many Energy from Waste (EfW) contracts which have use of landfill when operations are halted for maintenance or emergency closures.

Based on a survey of LARAC’s members, of which a third will be affected by the new guidance, councils see that the requirement to keep POPs items separate from others will cause major disruption to collection systems and their engagement with residents. Over a quarter of respondents see that the only way to be compliant will be to operate two collections: one for non-POPs items, and a second for vehicles to retake their route to specifically collect POP items.

Further, this could impact fly-tipping, where the change of ripped or damaged POPs items will be higher. Unlike collections, where the items for recycling are known prior to collection via the resident’s booking, fly tips can contain any items, all of which will have to be treated if a POPs item is present.

If all fly-tipped items will need to be incinerated at higher temperatures to treat the POPs items, councils will see increased costs, which LARAC stresses will create particular problems in ‘these times of strained council finances’.

Overall, LARAC states that no respondents to their member survey saw positive changes in the new requirements. Indeed, over half (55 per cent) did not believe they could be compliant with the changes by the EA’s end-of-year deadline. This is due to the quantity of high-cost changes required – and the short notice period –  including the cost of modifying transfer stations for the separate depositing of POPs waste, extra skips at HWRCs, and particulate control in compaction activities.

The body questions the EA’s claims that the new guidance reflects what has been the legal requirement since 2016, despite having not challenged any of the practices carried out by councils during their inspections since then. It asks the agency why it has taken six years to ‘suddenly decide that waste sofas and settees present such an urgent danger to human health’.

Further, it criticises the ‘poor communication’ taken by the EA regarding this change, which could hinder collection services, and makes landfill operators hesitant to accept any POPs waste to protect against any breach of their environmental permit.

Concluding its statement, LARAC urges the EA to enter into urgent discussions to ensure that disruption this would cause for councils and residents is minimised, and services can continue while a solution is found.