Disposal of Small Hazardous Items From Repairs Work
‘Empty’ containers of adhesives, sealants and oil are hazardous waste unless they contain no trace of hazardous material. This means they cannot be disposed of with general waste, should be consigned, and can only be taken to facilities licensed to process that type of hazardous waste.
When tradespeople like repairs contractors, engineers and kitchen fitters undertake work at a domestic property, they often use products like adhesives, sealants and paint that are hazardous. When a tube, tub or pot of one of those products runs out, the tendency may be to throw it in a skip along with the other waste from the job. However, this is illegal.
Waste Regulation Guidance WM3
Under Technical Guidance on the Classification and Assessment of Waste WM3 (reference Example 7 and pages A45 and A46) – if the residual waste in a container is hazardous, the whole container is hazardous no matter how small the residue.
Prior to 2015 and the introduction of WM3, the Environment Agency was more pragmatic. It allowed you to treat used containers with only small amounts of residue as non-hazardous. The test was whether the weight of the residual contents was less than 2% of the weight of the packaging and, if it was, you could ignore it. As a result contractors and installation businesses grew accustomed to turning a blind eye to finished tubes of silicon etc that still had a little bit of stuff in them.
Post 2015 and publication of WM3
However, when the EA issued the WM3 Guidance in 2015, they removed the 2% rule and with it all ambiguity. Now, if a container has any residual material that is hazardous, the entire container must be treated as hazardous waste and therefore disposed of as such. Below is a key extract (reference A45 of the guidance) with our comments shown in blue and square brackets.
“For a waste container to be classed as a packaging waste [ie. non-hazardous] it must be effectively ‘empty’. ….. where there is a small amount of residual material a container will not be empty if that residual material can be removed by physical or mechanical means by applying normal industry standards or processes. This means that all reasonable efforts must have been made to remove any left-over contents from the container. This may involve for example washing, draining or scraping. Note: if the design of the packaging, its aperture, or the adherent nature of the material does not permit it to be emptied then it will not be a packaging waste [ie. and therefore will be classed as hazardous]. If a container is not ‘empty’ it is not packaging waste. It should be classified on the basis of its contents [ie. and therefore will be classed as hazardous if the residual contents are hazardous] …..
What should you do with used containers of hazardous substances?
- Buy different products – The easiest option is to replace the hazardous products you use with non-hazardous alternatives. Obviously this may only solve part of your problem, but just as asbestos was replaced with non-hazardous fire resistant alternatives, every day new products are being introduced to the market that achieve just as good an outcome as their toxic competitors,
- Wash them out – Wash out containers completely so they can be disposed of as non-haz waste– under WM3, provided a container is empty, it can be disposed of as packaging, and therefore as non-hazardous assuming the packaging material is also non-hazardous. The empty container could then go into your general mixed waste or potentially your plastic or even metal waste streams.
- Reuse the containers – Reuse the containers instead of throwing them away – rather than buying lots of small new tubes and bottles of adhesive, why not consider buying much larger containers and using them to top up smaller containers used by field operatives. This reduces both the amount of packaging waste and hazardous waste you create, and should probably also reduce your costs – because buying big typically works out cheaper than buying lots of smaller amounts.
- Engage a specialist – Accept that it’s hazardous and dispose of it properly via a hazardous waste disposal specialist. This could mean collection of the waste by the hazardous waste contractor from the site where it is created or, putting in place a process for your field operatives to securely contain and transport (btw no consignment note required at that stage because it is classed as domestic hazardous waste) the items to designated sites under your control with hazardous waste bins which can then be periodically emptied by the hazardous waste company and appropriately consigned using a hazardous waste consignment note .
This all might seem a bit of a pain, particularly when in the ‘real world’ you regularly walk past a skip or Hippo bag with an old tube of sealant or a paint tin mixed in alongside general builders waste. But it’s the law. So if you want to operate compliantly (and avoid breaching your contractual commitments to your customers, employees and insurance providers), we recommend you take the time to review your current processes and consider how to change them and remain on the straight and narrow.
Our small print
AnyJunk is not a firm of solicitors, consultant or public authority – we are a rubbish clearance company. This guidance is designed to be a pragmatic summary for the majority of users and we have not included a multitude of additional rules, caveats and exemptions that may be relevant to your specific situation. If you require more detailed information or a definitive view on the rules and regulations governing waste, we recommend seeking independent legal advice or, at the very least, contacting the Environment Agency or SEPA for a proper chat. In other words, please don’t sue us; we’re only trying to help!