What is the Environmental Protection Act 1990?

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) is one of the most important statutes concerning legal responsibility for environmental welfare. DeltaNet explains what the Environmental Protection Act is and what the regulations involve, as well as the changes to environmental law it has brought.

The volume of environmental regulations has increased rapidly over recent years, meaning the need for a detailed understanding of the relevant legislation has become more important than ever.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) succeeded the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (COPA) and introduced new regulations for improved management systems relating to waste and pollution. Although many of its parts have since been repealed, the regulations outlined in the EPA provide a framework for much of the later legislation.

The EPA establishes legal responsibilities for pollution control for land, air and water. The Act also covers waste disposal and statutory nuisances, such as noise or smells. With an extensive understanding of the EPA’s regulations, companies can effectively evaluate the implementation of their environmental policies and ensure that in practice they adequately correspond to the legislation.

Pollution Control for Land, Air and Water

The first part of the EPA relates to industrial emissions and introduces Integrated Pollution Control (IPC). Section 4 of the EPA states that the IPC was introduced to ‘prevent or minimise pollution of the environment due to the release of substances into any environmental medium’. This regime replaced the regulations set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA).

In the HASAWA, the duty of an organisation was limited to using ‘the best practicable means’ for preventing the emission ‘offensive substances’. The EPA updated and improved this by imposing a stricter regulatory system. For example, the EPA requires all relevant activities to be authorised formally with an IPC licence. With increased management and control over emissions, businesses can ensure that they release as little pollution as possible.

Waste Disposal

The second part of the EPA outlines all aspects of waste management on land and identifies local authorities as responsible for collecting waste. The changes in the management and distribution of waste disposal licences led to increased regulation of the waste disposal industry, which in turn contributed to the evolution and growth of the sector. Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (COPA), the responsibility for waste was passed on from operator to operator throughout the disposal process. The EPA reformed the waste disposal licencing provisions by introducing formal regulation to activities such as waste handling, storage and treatment. The stricter regime means that all firms need a waste management licence, irrespective of their role within the disposal process.

According to Section 34 of the EPA, businesses are assigned a ‘duty of care’ to ensure that the ‘transfer of waste’ should be controlled and managed to a degree ‘reasonable in the circumstances’. With this increased level of responsibility for businesses in handling waste, failure to comply with the regulations may result in the prosecution of company officers. Penalties include fines of up to £20,000 and in some cases even prison sentences. Businesses and organisations have a responsibility to ensure that any waste produced by their company is handled safely and appropriately according to the EPA.

Statutory Nuisances

The third part of the EPA concerns statutory nuisances. According to Section 79 of the EPA, for an issue to qualify as a statutory nuisance it must be ‘prejudicial to health’ or a ‘nuisance’. Any noise, smell, light or insect infestation generated from industrial and commercial premises that compromises the quality of life, health and wellbeing of people in the neighbourhood may be considered a statutory nuisance. Examples of this include construction sites, factories and street noise.

The environmental health officer for the local authority is usually responsible for serving abatement notices. These notices set out the remedial action that must be undertaken in order to resolve the statutory nuisance. Fines of up to £20,000 may be issued if an organisation fails to comply with an abatement notice. This not only compromises the reputation and reliability of the business but may also result in damaging its relationship with shareholders and affecting its ability to obtain permits in the future.

How Things Have Changed

Parts of the EPA have since been repealed, but the act itself introduced many principles that provided a framework for succeeding environmental regulations. Therefore, the EPA is still one of the most important statutes in force in the U.K., which is why it is so important for businesses to understand and conform to its regulations. Whilst there are increased monitoring and contracting costs associated with an effective management of environmental impact, the fines for failing to conform to environmental regulations are far more costly. The need to be more environmentally conscious is more prevalent than ever, and an understanding of statutes such as the EPA is a great way to start thinking about how we can limit our impact on the environment. Without a proper understanding of the EPA, organisations risk damaging the environment, breaking the law and affecting the success of the business.

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