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Top Tips For Businesses - Environmental Compliance

All businesses need to think about their premises and how their activities could affect the environment, here are a some basic tips to help you prevent pollution and comply with the law.


Breach of environmental legislation can be costly in terms of adverse publicity and court fines.  Many different substances have the potential to cause pollution, for example fuel, oils, chemicals, detergent, sewage, but these will only actually cause pollution if there is a pathway which leads to a receptor such as a river or groundwater.  Common pathways for pollution are drains, through soil or run off across hard surfaces.
All businesses need to think about their premises and how their activities could affect the environment.  Precise requirements will vary, dependant upon the type of business, but here are a some basic tips to help you prevent pollution and comply with the law:
1.  Be aware of where your site drains go and make a drainage plan.   
It is an offence to allow anything other than clean surface water to enter a stream or brook.  Ask yourself, if there was a spill on your premises would this enter the surface water drainage system?  If so, there is a good chance that this could end up in a local river causing a pollution incident, and the company would then be committing a criminal offence.  Once you have created a drainage plan this will help you to manage your activities safely and to maintain and inspect your drains.
2.  Does your property produce dirty water or trade effluent, and if so where does this go? 
Again, this must not be allowed to enter the surface water drainage system as it could cause pollution.  Does any effluent enter drains leading to the sewers?  If so, this is unlawful unless you have a consent from the sewerage undertaker. If you do have a consent you must ensure that the quality of effluent being discharged does not exceed any conditions.
3.  Do you have any liquids on site such as oils, chemicals or detergents which could cause pollution if not stored safely? 
Make sure you are keeping materials in the safest place, on impermeable surfaces, in suitable containers.  Consider whether it is necessary to install secondary containment, such as a bund wall, so that if a spill occurred this would be contained.  Inspect and maintain any bunds and containers regularly to make sure they are in good condition and free from cracks and leaks.

4.  What does your business do with its waste?  
All businesses create some waste as a result of their activities.  There is a legal duty of care to ensure that waste is disposed of only to registered waste carrier.  The onus is on the business disposing of the waste to check this – look on the Environment Agency’s website or phone them.  If you fail to do this, and the waste ends up being fly-tipped, your business will be prosecuted as well as the person who actually fly-tipped it!  If you are disposing of your own waste and transporting it to a permitted waste site, you may need to register as a registered waste carrier, so again, check this. Go to or telephone 03708 506 506 (Mon – Fri 8am to 6pm).

5.  What sort of waste does your business produce?
You must store your waste securely to prevent it from escaping –  there is a legal duty of care requiring this.  Some types of waste, such as used solvents, can be harmful to human health or the environment.  Strict rules apply to the storage, handling and disposal of hazardous waste and you will need to look into whether you need to be registered as a hazardous waste producer by contacting the Environment Agency.  If in doubt, take advice from a specialist environmental solicitor.
6.  When disposing of waste: (a) Provide the appropriate documentation whenever you transfer it to another person for disposal and; (b) check that the person receiving it has the necessary environmental permit. 
It is a legal requirement to complete a Waste Transfer note so that the person receiving the waste is aware of exactly what they are receiving.  Take a copy of the receiver’s waste carriers registration and any environmental permit they hold.  Check regularly with the Environment Agency to ensure these authorisations are still in place.
7.  Prepare for emergency situations by creating an incident response plan and training your staff on this.
If the worst happens, such as a spillage of oil or other contaminant on site, your staff then have a clear emergency action plan, are properly trained, and have the appropriate kit to enable them to reduce the impact of any incident
8.  Do you have any treatment facilities on your premises (eg. septic tanks or package plants which treat sewage) or interceptors (which separate oil from water)?
You must ensure these systems are operated and maintained properly as otherwise there is a significant risk they will cause pollution.  If you have a consent to discharge (to a local watercourse or sewer) make sure the effluent being discharged complies with the consent conditions.  Keep a copy of all servicing and maintenance records to show that the system is being properly maintained.  This way, in the event of an unforeseen incident, you can demonstrate that your business has done all you could to prevent pollution and is less likely to face prosecution.
9.  Does your business have an environmental permit from the Local Authority or Environment Agency?
Breach of permit conditions is a common ground for prosecution and fines are high for this type of offence. You must ensure that regular, accurate, monitoring takes place to ensure you are within permit conditions.  If you know your business is in breach take action to do all you can to bring the business into compliance before it faces prosecution. 
10.  Des your business import, make, or use packaging or sell packaged goods?
If it uses over 50 tonnes of packaging per year and has a turnover exceeding £2m it will need to comply with the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations.  If you have never heard of these regulations you are certainly not alone as these regulations were poorly publicised.  The Environment Agency investigate and do prosecute businesses who fail to comply.  However, if you self report you can avoid prosecution by entering into an agreement with the Environment Agency called an Enforcement Undertaking.  Whilst you will still have to pay the costs of non-compliance for the years your business was in breach, you will save some money if you self report, and also avoid the adverse publicity of prosecution.  However, do not contact the Environment Agency without first taking legal advice from a specialist environmental solicitor.
If you have any concerns in relation to an environmental, health and safety or other regulatory issue affecting your business contact Julie Goulbourne – 01942 774064 or email


 Stephensons LLP
 Environmental Compliance
 Environmental Prosecution

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