Duty of care for business waste
Rules to follow when managing your business waste to protect the environment, human health and your business reputation
Business waste can pose a risk to the environment and human health if it is not managed properly.
If you produce waste in your business, you have legal obligations to manage that waste safely. Following these rules will help your business to deal with waste more sustainably and avoid enforcement action.
Under duty of care legislation businesses producing waste must:
- store waste safely and securely
- accurately describe your waste
- segregate any hazardous or special waste
- use registered waste carriers
- use waste transfer notes and keep records for at least two years
This guide explains what waste is - it will help you to understand your legal obligations when storing, transferring and recovering, or disposing of business waste.
Does my business produce waste?
Is your business a waste producer? Learn the definition of waste to ensure your duty of care for business waste
If you run a business you will almost certainly produce waste. Waste is any substance or object that your business discards, intends to discard or is required to discard.
What is the definition of waste?
A material is likely to be waste if it is:
- left over, unwanted or a burden on your business eg building rubble
- no longer able to be used for its original purpose, out-of-date, damaged or unsuitable for use
- mixed with another waste material, which means the whole mixture is waste
- deliberately and illegally abandoned or dumped eg fly-tipping
- an accidentally, unknowingly or involuntarily discarded material or substance
- required to be discarded by law eg animal by-product materials
Once a substance or object is classed as waste, it will remain waste until it no longer poses a potential threat to the environment or human health.
What are my options for discarding waste?
Discarding waste does not mean just getting rid of it. There are a range of options from disposal to recycling and recovery which can put your business waste materials back into good use. You may even be able to reuse your business waste to boost profits.
Material being recovered, eg sent for recycling or prepared for reuse, is classed as waste until it is made into a useable product again or meets defined End of Waste conditions.
If you are not sure whether a substance or object is classed as waste you can:
- seek more guidance on the legal definition of waste
- call the duty of care helpline on Tel 028 9056 9360
Waste that is harmful to human health or the natural environment is known as hazardous waste. There are additional obligations on your business when dealing with hazardous waste.
Duty of care to store business waste correctly
How to securely store, segregate, contain or package your waste on your premises and when transferring it
All waste has the potential to pollute the environment if you do not handle or store it properly.
As a producer and holder of business waste you must act to keep it safe against:
- corrosion or wear of waste containers
- accidental spilling or leaking, or run-off escaping from waste unprotected from rainfall
- accidents or weather breaking contained waste open and allowing it to leak
- waste blowing away or falling while stored or transported
- odour emissions through incorrect storage or decay of organic waste kept beyond maximum storage duration
- scavenging of waste by animals or humans
How can I store business waste securely?
You need to take security precautions at sites where your business waste is stored to prevent theft, vandalism or scavenging of waste.
You should take particular care to secure certain types of waste such as:
- material attractive to scavengers eg building and demolition materials and scrap metal
- waste liquids which can cause pollution in the event of container damage eg use of bunds for the storage of waste oil drums
- high risk waste eg certain types of clinical waste
You should undertake regular reviews of your business waste to ensure that it has not been disturbed or tampered with.
You are responsible for any pollution caused by materials that come from your site.
Duty of care to segregating waste correctly
Keeping different types of business waste separate is important to the rest of the chain of waste. It helps to prevent the mixing of incompatible wastes.
Waste collectors must ensure that glass, metal, plastic, paper, and card (including cardboard) is collected separately. As a business waste producer, you should take reasonable measures to provide this segregation and avoid contamination. Your employees and anyone else handling should be aware of the locations and uses of each segregated waste container.
You must not mix hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste, unless it is permitted as part of a disposal or recovery operation.
Using the right waste container
You must store all waste materials safely and securely in suitable containers such as skips, intermediate bulk containers or drums. Keep the waste containers in good condition.
Ensure that you label containers clearly with their contents, so that the correct waste is stored in them and future holders will know what they contain. If you reuse containers, make sure that you remove any old labels.
Ensure that waste cannot blow away. If you store waste in skips or other similar containers, ensure that they are covered or netted. Store waste under cover if being exposed to rain will prevent its reuse or cause contaminated run-off.
Duty of care when transferring your business waste
How to correctly transfer waste using waste transfer notes, good descriptions of you waste and an authorised waste carrier
Your duty of care for business waste does not end when waste leaves your premises or is handed over to a waste carrier. It may extend further down the waste chain depending upon the type of waste. Getting the waste transfer process right can save your business from problems and reduce environmental impacts.
Transfer business waste to the right person
You must ensure that any person or business you are transferring waste to, or who is organising waste transfers for you, are registered with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The simplest way to confirm this is to request a copy of their waste carrier's registration.
Be aware of any signs that a waste carrier may be dealing with your waste illegally, such as:
- quoting unusually low prices for transferring your waste
- they are unable to confirm to where and what type of facility your waste is going
- they are unable to provide evidence of registration or transfer notes
Commercial waste collection services can also be arranged through your local district council.
Waste transfer notes
When waste transfers from one person to another, a waste transfer note (non-hazardous waste) and/or a consignment note (hazardous waste) must be completed, signed and kept by the parties involved.
The transfer note must include:
- the quantity of waste transferred
- how the waste has been packed (loose or in a container)
- (if the waste is in a container) what kind of container
- that the Waste Hierarchy has been applied
It's your duty to pass on all important information. This will ensure that the right treatment and storage is carried out further down the waste chain. This includes providing an adequate description of your waste.
There is no standard format for a waste transfer note - download an example waste transfer note to adapt and reuse (PDF, 65K).
Waste transfer notes must be kept for at least two years while consignment notes must be kept for three years.
Waste transfer season tickets
If your business transfers the same waste from the same place, using the same company to the same waste management site, then you can use a "season ticket". This must contain all the same information as a standard waste transfer note. It can be used for multiple transfers over 12 months, although a log should be kept of each transfer.
Electronic Duty of Care
Edoc (Electronic Duty of Care) is a free online system which gives businesses an alternative to paper-based waste transfer notes.
The system allows you to search and retrieve information and run data reports for business planning and waste and resource management. Find out more about the system or sign up to edoc online.
Duty of care when exporting waste
If you transport waste out of Northern Ireland to countries outside the UK, there are special controls and notifications which may apply.
What is a waste transfer note?
Including a waste transfer note with a clear description when transferring your business waste is part of your duty of care for waste
A waste transfer note is your evidence of a transfer of waste, including what information you passed on. You must produce waste transfer notes when asked by an enforcement officer.
When you transfer waste you must include a waste transfer note with a clear written description of your waste.
What information goes on a waste transfer note?
A full description of your waste will enable anyone receiving it to safely manage it in line with their own duty of care responsibilities.
Your waste transfer note must contain the following information:
- a description of the waste
- where the waste came from
- the appropriate European Waste Catalogue (EWC) code
- the quantity and nature of the waste and how it is contained
- the name and address of the parties involved in the transfer
- the Standard Industry Classification (SIC) code of your business
- an indication you have complied with the Waste Hierarchy (where applicable)
- the place, date and time of transfer (or the period for which it is valid if you are using a season ticket)
- any treatments or processes that have already been applied to the waste
- signatures of both parties involved in the transfer (written or electronic)
If you do not describe your waste properly or don't pass a description onto the next holder, you may be liable if something goes wrong after the transfer.
Is my waste transfer note description adequate?
An adequate description will depend upon the type of waste and any treatment or sorting process that it has already been through.
The description should always mention any special problems, requirements or knowledge. It should also include some combination of:
- the type of premises or business from which the waste comes (this may be enough)
- the name of the substance or substances (if it's a single material or a simple mixture)
- the process that produced the waste (most industrial and some commercial wastes)
- a chemical and physical analysis (if there is doubt about the origin, processes or mixture)
You should never rely on waste carriers or waste management contractors to describe your waste for you. As the producer, you should be able to describe your waste accurately.
It is not acceptable to use simple terms such as 'general waste' or 'rubbish'.
How long do I need to keep a waste transfer note?
You must keep a copy of your waste transfer note (written or electronic) signed by yourself and the person you transfer waste. Keep any additional information with this note such as analysis results.
For non-hazardous waste, waste transfer notes must be kept for at least two years while for hazardous waste, consignment notes must be kept for three years.
Waste duty of care responsibilities and offences
Your business must follow its duty of care responsibilities for waste or you could face prosecution
Duty of care is a system where businesses should work together to reduce environmental damage. Your business has specific legal responsibilities that it must follow - if not, you may be committing an offence.
Duty of care for business waste responsibilities
Under waste duty of care legislation you must:
- present waste correctly for collection in line with your waste collectors' instructions and waste legislation
- get evidence from your waste carrier that they are currently registered with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
- have waste transfer notes for all non-hazardous waste removed from your premises and keep these for two years
- have consignment notes for all hazardous waste removed from your premises and keep these for three years
- transfer waste only to a facility that is authorised to accept it - you should get a copy of the site's authorisation
Duty of care for business waste offences
Duty of care aims to prevent danger to human health or harm to the environment. It is designed to be a self-regulating system based on good business practice.
You will be committing an offence if you:
- give waste to an unregistered waste carrier
- do not have valid waste transfer notes and/or consignment notes for the movement of waste
- transport waste without being registered with NIEA
- transport waste and do not have a complete waste transfer note with you
- accept waste without holding the relevant waste authorisation
- keep, treat or dispose of waste without the relevant waste authorisation
If you don't manage your waste in a legal way you could be prosecuted.
More detailed guidance on your waste responsibilities is available with the NIEA duty of care code of practice (PDF, 781K).
If you are in any doubt about the legality of a waste activity contact the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' Environmental Crime section immediately.
NetRegs provides a detailed list of the legislation which underpins duty of care.
Six top tips on duty of care for your business waste
Top tips on handling your business waste in line with your legal duty of care obligations
Duty of care for waste prevents the environment from being polluted and encourages more sustainable ways to deal with waste. As a business producing waste, there are rules you must follow when dealing with waste. Use our six top tips to get a quick overview of your duty of care obligations.
1. Consider other waste options before disposal
You are expected to demonstrate good waste management by assessing waste hierarchy options for waste prevention, re-use, recycling or other recovery before the last option - disposal. Your waste could be a valuable resource and business opportunity.
2. Prevent the escape of waste
You must not allow any waste materials to escape from your control. Containers must be suitable for holding the waste during storage, transport and management. Talk to your waste carrier about the packaging requirements for safe transport.
3. Describe your waste correctly
Include a clear, accurate and detailed description of your waste with your waste transfer note and on container labels. If you don't do this you may still be liable if something goes wrong after the waste is transferred.
4. Transfer your waste only to an authorised person
You must ensure that any person or business you are transferring waste to are registered with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). If they are not registered when they should be, do not give them your waste.
5. Prevent your waste causing harm
Your responsibility for waste does not end at the gate of your business premises. You may share liability with the waste carrier for any harm caused by your waste if you ignore evidence of mistreatment. Act on any knowledge to stop the illegal handling of waste and tell NIEA immediately.
6. Keep good records
You have a duty to make sure that all important information about your waste is passed down the waste chain. If harm is caused or waste is fly-tipped it could be traced back to your business. Keep records of questions you asked or any registration enquiries you made with NIEA. This will help if something goes wrong with the later management of your waste.
Keep waste transfer notes (non-hazardous waste) for at least two years. Retain consignment notes (hazardous waste) for three years.