Defra recently launched a consultation on a revised ‘Duty of Care’ code of practice applicable to all those dealing with controlled waste. The Duty of Care is a legal requirement imposed on those dealing with certain kinds of waste, to take all reasonable steps to keep it safe as set out in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (the EPA).

The current Code of Practice was published in 1996 and therefore does not reflect a number of important legislative changes, hence the Code of Practice has been revised and is now subject to consultation

The Duty of Care plays a central role in the responsible disposal of waste and supports the Environment Agency’s well publicised “war on waste”. Waste crime has been estimated by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust to cost the UK economy GBP 568 million per annum.

What is the purpose of the proposed Code of Practice?

Defra describes the revised Code of Practice as giving simple, clear and practical guidance on how those who import, produce, carry, keep, treat or dispose of controlled waste can fulfil their legal obligations. 

In revising the Code of Practice, the Government has attempted to:

  • Explain the legislative requirements of the Duty of Care, clarifying who and what they apply to
  • Provide guidance so that each user understands how to demonstrate compliance
  • Signpost other legislative requirements that apply to the management of waste that must also be complied with alongside the Duty of Care in particular circumstances
  • Publish the document in a format that meets the needs of the user

So what has changed?

Since the current Code of Practice was published in 1996, there have been a number of changes to relevant domestic and European environmental legislation. The revised Code of Practice aims to reflect these changes including:

  • The waste hierarchy: The Waste Framework Directive sets out five ways of dealing with waste, ranked according
  • to environmental impact. Waste holders are required to take all reasonable measures to apply the waste hierarchy in priority order when waste is transferred to another person. A declaration of compliance is required on waste transfer documentation
  • Basic characterisation requirements: If waste must be disposed of in a landfill site, it must be characterised in accordance with the Landfill Directive and Council Decision to ensure that waste management operators fully understand the nature of the wastes they will be receiving
  • Waste transfer information: Those who transfer and handle waste now have the ability to record waste transfer information on alternative documents such as invoices, orders or receipts; or electronically, for example through the electronic Duty of Care system (
  • Household waste duty of care: Section 34 of the EPA imposes a more limited Duty of Care on householders, requiring them to ensure they pass their domestic waste to someone authorised to take it (eg the municipal waste collection service) but does not require them to complete waste transfer notes.

Providing guidance on how to demonstrate compliance

The revised Code of Practice reflects the Government’s smarter guidance policy. Defra is aiming to minimise the length of the document and remove best practice examples and duplication within and across documents. The new approach is intended to make it simpler, quicker and clearer for users to find out what they need to do.

Publishing in a format which meets the needs of the user

With the increased use of computers, tablets and smartphones, the Government has confirmed the intention to publish the Code of Practice in web format with links to other relevant information and guidance.

The consultation sought views on:

  • Whether the scope of the Duty of Care is clearly set out
  • How long the Duty applies for
  • Whether the law is clearly explained
  • Whether the actions required to comply with the Duty are clearly set out
  • Whether the signposting of other relevant legislative requirements is helpful
  • How users intend to access the document once published

The consultation closed on 21 September 2015.