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'Practical guide' spells out effects of waste legislation

MANAGING WASTE has become increasingly complex as piles of new legislation have been heaped onto the construction industry.

With construction and demolition responsible for almost a quarter of all the waste produced in the UK, it is more essential than ever that civil engineers wake up to their legal responsibilities.

A new book published by Thomas Telford aims to shed some light on what engineers are responsible for, giving practical advice on how current and future legislation will affect the industry.

Written by civil engineer Heidi Shaw and environmental lawyer Richard Hawkins, The practical guide to waste management law is claimed to be the first book in 10 years to tackle the implications of waste management legislation.

The EU Landfill Directive, which is being implemented in stages through the Landfill (England & Wales) Regulations 2002, has reclassified waste into hazardous, non-hazardous and inert waste. Last month codisposal of hazardous and nonhazardous waste was banned.

To civil engineers, this could mean that a few half eaten sandwiches in a skip of broken bricks could reclassify the waste as biodegradable instead of inert.

If some fluorescent light tubes or batteries are then added to the pile, the skip contents could be classified as hazardous. This could incur a disposal cost up to four times greater than that of disposing of a skip full of bricks.

'We can't go on being over regulated, under enforced, misleadingly educated and erratically resourced, ' says Hawkins. The consequences of acting in ignorance could in some cases be unlimited fines or up to five years imprisonment.

He says The practical guide stands apart from other books on waste legislation in being deliberately non-academic: 'It's written by people in the field.'

The book carefully steers clear of legal jargon and does not assume that the reader has any background in waste management.

Hawkins helped to write the first piece of waste legislation prohibiting the disposal of poisonous waste on the land 32 years ago. The Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act has now evolved into the European Hazardous Waste Directive.

His experience of working for a waste management contractor in the 1960s and his love of the environment has made promoting responsible waste disposal a personal mission.

Shaw, in contrast, is a 27 year old civil engineer with consultant Gifford and holds a PhD from Southampton University in beach stabilisation.

She has spent the past few years establishing and coordinating a masters course in sustainable waste management at Southampton University which pulls together latest legislation and best practice.

The book begins with a history of waste management, helping to explain why the UK has been so slow to manage waste responsibly. In the early 19th century the government viewed pollution control as a threat to national prosperity and only reluctantly passed legislation to reduce noxious gas emissions.

The practical guide has a comprehensive section on waste classification indicating how asbestos and rubber tyres should be dealt with. It also includes chapters on transporting waste and identifies who is responsible for the safe disposal of materials.

Most importantly the book is peppered with practical anecdotes from local newspapers to illustrate that failure to comply with legislation can lead to heavy fines. It also contains web site addresses to ensure readers can keep up with new legislation as it is enforced.

Hawkins says that the main aim of the book is to highlight the fact that current practice does not comply with recently imposed legislation.

He cites demolition waste as an area where contractors are slow to understand the current waste management licensing system.

Existing legislation demands that demolition rubble waiting to be crushed for use as aggregate could be classed as waste and require a waste management licence.

Up to 20,000t of waste concrete can be stored on site before crushing. As it is, contractors seldom store and crush concrete at present because the market for the aggregate is unpredictable. But storage of more than 20,000t of concrete would require a pollution prevention and control permit.

'Contractors have found that the system can be subject to unpredictable delays and inconsistency, or involve satisfying costly conditions, which can be difficult to incorporate in a construction programme, ' says the book.

The Practical Guide is aimed at consultants, contractors, ground and water specialists and quantity surveyors as well as insurers and transportation managers.

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