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Posted on: 20 June 2018

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) brings together the system of integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) for raw material usage, waste avoidance (or minimisation), energy efficiency and the disposal of wastes to land, water and air.

Pollution of the environment, as defined by the EPA, is the release of any substances into air, water or land as a result of any process which causes harm to people or damage to any property; The term ‘process’ is defined as any activity that is capable of causing pollution.

There are regional differences between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and different enforcing authorities, for example, the Environment Agency (EA) in England, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in Wales and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).  

Some activities and offences are also regulated by the relevant local authority.

The EPA is divided into the following sections:

  • I. Prescribed process for the IPPC and the necessary powers for enforcing authorities.
  • II. Controlled waste disposal on land

    • IIa. Contaminated land
  • III. Statutory nuisances
  • IV. Litter
  • V. Amendment of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 (replaced by later legislation)
  • VI. Genetically modified organisms 

All businesses are obliged to work within a framework of Acts and Regulations for environmental issues some of which may be sector or process specific. Business owners and managers need to be aware of these environmental duties and responsibilities and determine which environmental laws apply to their activities and to take the appropriate actions, such as approaching the relevant authority for licences and permits.

The main parts of the Act that businesses should take heed of are as follows:

Any industrial process or substance can be prescribed and limits are set on emissions into the environment so it’s always worth checking if a process is prescribed. A prescribed process can then only be carried out in accordance with an authorisation from the enforcing authority. Failure to comply may result in criminal sanctions.

Industrial processes are divided into the following categories, in a descending scale of polluting:

  • Category “A(1)” – large scale chemical production, mining or waste disposal concerns (i.e. the more polluting industries) governed by the IPPC and only permitted when carried out under and in accordance with the authorisation.
  • Category “A(2)” – medium scale processes.
  • Category “B” – smaller scale processes that are less energy intensive; governed by local air pollution controls.

If your business is sited next to a designated protected area there may be some restrictions imposed on your activities.

You should ensure that:

This section sets out the regime for regulating and licencing the acceptable disposal of controlled waste on land. Controlled waste is classed as any household, industrial or commercial waste. Unauthorised or harmful depositing and the treatment or disposal of controlled waste is prohibited and criminal sanctions can be imposed.

Furthermore, there is a broad duty of care on importers, carriers, producers, etc. to prevent unauthorised or harmful activities involving controlled waste.

Therefore businesses must:

  • keep waste to a minimum by doing everything possible to prevent, reuse, recycle or recover waste and have controls in place to sort and safely store waste;
  • ensure that waste that leaves the premises has a completed waste transfer note and that the waste carrier used is registered to dispose of waste; 
  • report any waste carrier (or other business or individual) that illegally disposes of waste; and 
  • retain waste control notes for a minimum of two years and make them readily available.

Under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations, manufacturers and importers of hazardous substances typically need to register with the European Chemicals and Health Agency and comply with any restrictions imposed by their regulator and to provide users with instructions on how to use their products safely.

Refer to the REACH Enforcement Regulations on legislation.gov.uk

When land is in such a condition that substantial harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused to the environment it is classed as ‘contaminated’. Harm is assessed by the lands current use, therefore the mere presence of contaminates on site doesn’t necessarily mean it is contaminated land. Land also qualifies as contaminated if it’s causing or likely to cause significant water pollution.

Operators of non-domestic premises must take all practicable steps to prevent environmental damage or if the harm has already occurred take all practicable steps to prevent further damage.

The appropriate person responsible for remedial work is any person(s) who caused or knowingly permitted the substances to be in or under the affected land (aka ‘giving rise to the designation’). If no such person can be identified (after reasonable enquires) then the present owner or becomes the appropriate person and responsible for the remediation works.

The local authority or the EA or SEPA can perform the remedial work themselves if the appropriate person cannot be found, defaults or requests that they do so, although they can still be held responsible for the costs involved.

Local authorities have a duty to periodically survey their locality and to designate contaminated land as a ‘special site’ and notify the relevant enforcing authorities.

A statutory nuisance is defined as premises which are deemed to be harmful to health, or otherwise a nuisance, due to emissions of dust, steam, smells, vapours or noise. 

Every local authority has to inspect the area it covers to check for statutory nuisances and if a complaint is made then it must investigate.   

If a statutory nuisance is deemed to exist, a notice will be served ordering steps to be taken to reduce the nuisance listed.


It is a criminal offence to leave litter. Local authorities have the power to issue a litter abatement order and litter clearing notices and offenders can be fined for non-compliance.


All appropriate measures have to be taken to avoid damage to the environment that may arise from the escape or release from human control of GMOs. There are also limits imposed on the import, acquisition, keeping, release and marketing of GMOs.

When considering this topic you may be interested in the following legislation, in addition to the EPA: