Scottish construction industry urged to put waste regulation changes on its radar

Laura Tainsh

MANY construction firms are unaware of the potential implications for them of upcoming policy and regulatory changes to the way waste and resource management is governed in Scotland.

That’s the view of lawyer Laura Tainsh, partner and waste management specialist at Davidson Chalmers.

Laura said she is concerned by a lack of knowledge over the number of “significant” changes on the horizon and what they could mean for planning, pricing and managing future projects.

“One of the key measures to be implemented by the Scottish Government is a landfill ban covering all biodegradeable municipal waste (BMW) which will take effect from 1st January 2021,” Laura explained. 

“Having spoken at a number of construction industry events about this and other forthcoming regulation and policy changes over the last 12 months, it is clear from the reaction that this has yet to register widely on the radar.   

“This lack of awareness could be a result of the minimal discussion, at government level, regarding the practical implementation of the landfill ban until early last year. 

“In addition, given that the ban only affects BMW, there isn’t an immediately obvious link to the construction sector, although it will certainly be impacted.

“BMW is material that degrades through aerobic or anaerobic process such as food waste, green waste, paper from domestic premises but also non-domestic waste of a similar nature or composition, such as that from hotels and supermarkets.

“From January 2021 these materials will be prohibited from going to landfill sites.”

Laura added, “While this is clearly not the sort of materials ordinarily dealt with by the construction industry, the ban will still affect the sector. 

“With an estimated one million tonnes of material no longer able to be disposed of in landfill sites, many landfill operators are questioning whether they have a viable business model and some sites could close as result.”

Laura said that for construction businesses that send other waste materials, including contaminated soil, to landfill, there will be fewer sites to access and the likelihood of increasing costs due to rising gate fees and greater transport costs for operators to make disposals.

This comes at a time when there is increased scrutiny by SEPA on all parties in the construction supply chain to demonstrate compliance with the waste Duty of Care (under the Environmental Protection Act 1990). 

Laura added, “As should be common knowledge, it is the duty of anyone who produces or handles waste materials in the UK to ensure that they are ultimately legally disposed of. 

“DEFRA has just announced the award of funding, under the GovTech Catalyst competition, for the design and implementation of data-tracking system(s) to keep more accurate tabs on all waste materials, including those from construction sites.

“Other longer-term proposals by SEPA will also affect the construction sector over time.”

These are said to include landfill and metal sector plans, which have already been introduced and the housing, tyre and strategic infrastructure sector plans that are in the consultation process and its new Integrated Authorisation Framework (IAF). 

“While there is no set date for waste management to be brought under the IAF as yet, when that happens there will be practical changes that will affect the sector,” Laura said. “An example is the phasing out of waste management licensing exemptions which are commonly relied on for the use or disposal of waste from construction and demolition sites. Without exempt sites for that material, disposal is likely to become more difficult and costly. 

“Overall, it is imperative that Scottish construction businesses start to factor in the potential administrative and budgetary impact these regulatory changes could have on the delivery of future projects.”