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Permit Me to Explain

Permit Me to Explain

Looking through some IEMA Environmental course assignments recently I noted that one subject that seems to cause a lot of confusion. The question of whether a business needs to have an Environmental Permit?

The first thing to understand is that permits only apply to certain activities and installations – the latter are known as Regulated Facilities. Students often think companies have to have an environmental permit for their skips and storage of general waste awaiting collection. However, for most businesses this is not the case. Skips and waste storage would only be included in a permit if the main activity, or installation is covered by a permit.

A little bit of history is probably useful here. Many years ago, we had Part 1 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 – Integrated Pollution Control by Local Authorities. This legislation controlled the emissions from certain processes, such as cement and steel-manufacturing plants, power stations, solvent-processing plants, etc. It focused almost entirely on what came out the end of the chimney, or discharge pipe, and set limits for these discharges. These were known as IPC Authorisations.

Then, in 1999 and 2000, we saw directives come out of Europe that changed this approach to one of preventing pollution in the first place. And then controlling what waste could not be prevented. Several sets of regulations later, we now have the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 (plus various amendments). 

Since they came into force the scope of the EP Regulations has increased, they now cover a number of activities that previously came under separate legislation. Such activities include cement and steel manufacturing, and other heavy industrial processes such as; large paint-spraying activities, oil refining, processing of metals, explosives manufacturing etc. The EP Regulations also cover waste activities, such as landfill sites and transfer stations. Which were previously covered under separate legislation. As well as discharges to water, previously covered by the Water Resources Act 1990.

Going back to Regulated Facilities, these include:

  • Installations
  • Mobile plant
  • Waste operations
  • Mining waste operations
  • Radioactive-substance activities
  • Water-discharge activities
  • Groundwater activities

All of the above are defined within the various schedules of the EP Regulations. It is straightforward to look them up, find the appropriate schedule and check whether what you are doing requires an environmental permit or not.

Many environmental permits impose a far wider range of conditions than the old IPC Authorisations. For example, an environmental permit can contain conditions covering the provision of technically competent staff, the application of Best Available Techniques (BAT), and improvements in environmental efficiency.

So, in short, an organisation only needs an environmental permit if it is classed as a Regulated Facility, and these are all detailed in the EP Regulations. Most businesses do not require an environmental permit and certainly not for simply storing their own waste, while it is awaiting collection. If an organisation discharges pollutants to air, land or water then it may well need an environmental permit but offices, shops, small engineering and manufacturing plants, schools, colleges, etc. are highly unlikely to need a permit.

David Whitelegg

David Whitelegg BSc (Hons), CEnv, MCIWM, MIEMA, Dip2.OSH

Spent over 15 years involved in health, safety and the environment, with areas of particular interest including the waste industry and heavy industry.

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