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Westminster City Council

Definition of Waste updated by DEFRA and the Environment Agency

Were you aware that there is a legal definition of waste together with guidance as to how it is applied? This legal definition is important since it decides when something is classed as waste. There is stringent legislation is in place for managing waste in order to ensure it doesn’t pollute the environment, becomes a health hazard or nuisance. Businesses often don’t have sufficient knowledge of how to handle their waste properly which leads to problems.

For waste operators such as Westminster City Council’s Commercial Waste Service this field is our bread and butter but businesses should also have an awareness of the guidance. So we have summarised some of the key points below as this applies to all waste producers as well as collectors.

Definition of Waste key points

  • The guidance was last updated in August 2012. The 5th May 2016 release is a slimmed down version produced as a result of the government’s wider desire to reduce red tape for businesses.
  • The purpose of the guidance is to determine if a material is waste or not and whether the disposal of that material is subject to waste handling legislation.
  • The document “Decide if a material is waste or not: general guide” includes details of the waste duty of care. This applies to all businesses who import, keep, treat, carry or dispose of waste as well as the producers of packaging, batteries and electrical equipment.
  • In the guidance there are useful examples of what is considered to be waste. One such example clarifies that even if something is reused it can still be considered waste.
    • When a business receives waste which it intends to process so it can be used again it is still waste, even if it has a positive economic value. For example when a scrap metal merchant takes waste scrap metal to a business who can convert it back to a new steel product – the scrap metal is waste because the producer or holder who gave it to the scrap metal merchant discarded it. Source: uk Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs
  • Other definitions clarified in the document cover the activities and operations where waste rules apply:
    • Recovery e.g. turning food waste into compost or high performance energy from waste combustion
    • Preparation for reuse e.g. repair of electrical equipment
    • Recycling e.g. making playground surfaces from waste tyres
    • Disposal – basically landfill

Any questions regarding the waste definitions?

If you have any questions regarding the revised definition of waste you are welcome to give our Customer Service Team a call on 02076416180. Alternatively, the Environment Agency has a National Customer Contact Centre who can be contacted on 03708 506 506 or via email enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

Full details of the updated guidelines can be found on Gov.uk

Finally, don’t forget that if you create hazardous waste there are additional regulations.


If you have any items of waste that you are unsure about in terms of disposal, please click on the panel below for our AtoZ Waste Guide.

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