Is landfill the new solution to pollution – SEPA think so

In a move away from their role ensuring that Scotland’s natural resources and services are used as sustainably as possible and contributing to our sustainable economic growth, SEPA have chosen to promote the lower rate of landfill tax of £2.60/tonne for Non-Hazardous soil rather than the intended standard rate at £82.60/tonne.

Their rationale appears to stem from the fact that they have failed to enforce the statutory controls to prevent environmental pollution and harm to human health at Paragraph 19 Exemption sites.  These sites are permitted to accept inert waste material for construction purposes under an exemption from waste management legislation but it appears that some of these sites may have inadvertently disposed of contaminated soils, which you’ll not be surprised to know is a breach of their exemption.

Rather than regulate these sites or restrict who they actually give the exemptions to (yep, they actually administer the regime, I kid you not) they would rather promote cheap landfill through the application of the lower rate of landfill taxation in their belief that the problem will simply disappear.  I have heard of Ostriches burying their heads in sand but a an environmental regulator doing the same in waste…!

Quoting SEPA’s web site they claim to “…protect and improve the Scottish environment by using a combination of legislation and good practice measures.”  Furthermore “Good environmental practices can lead to economic benefits for business and for Scotland.”  Great news if you own a landfill site or a fleet of lorries but rubbish (sorry about the pun…!) if you recycle soil for the good of our environment.

So what about the rest of our waste challenges…?  Will SEPA renege on the ban preventing scrap tyres from being landfilled, or will they permit the burning of waste to prevent fly tipping…?  Who knows and indeed who actually cares, but if you’re one of the few that do why not drop your local MSP an email or go straight to the top and email our ‘head burying’ Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment – Richard Lochhead  expressing your concerns and ask him to get SEPA to change this madness.

And what about the recycling industry…?  Well we’re off to recycle our 2014 Vibes Award for the Circular Economy, presented to us by the Chair of SEPA for recycling contaminated soils (no I’m not joking…!).  The best idea for what to do with it will win a day trip to a local landfill site to see perfectly recyclable soils being dumped with all the other wastes…!

Revenue Scotland and SEPA favour landfill over recycling

Following Revenue Scotland’s recent consultation on the guidance on landfill taxation rates for contaminated soils the decision has been made to revert back to the good old ‘dig and dump’ days of the past and to disregard the soil recycling industry with its certain demise.

Supported by SEPA, Revenue Scotland concluded that overall the responses to the consultation indicated significant support for Option 1 that in effect is the application of the lower rate of Landfill Taxation to perfectly good recyclable soils.  This was not a surprise given that a considerable amount of responses were from landfill operators. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas as landfill operators don’t vote for higher rates of landfill tax…!

So where does this leave us…?  Well if you have Non-Hazardous contaminated soil on your site than it’s great news for you as you only have to pay the lower landfill tax rate at £2.60 per tonne and with an average gate fee of £14-16 per tonne on site remediation will no longer be a consideration.

But what about Hazardous soils…? By rights your supposed to pay the standard rate of landfill taxation, £82.60 per tonne, but as we all know it’s virtually impossible to visually distinguish between Haz and Non-Haz soils so the likely outcome is that your Haz soils will probably be ‘mistakenly’ excavated as Non-Hazardous soils and ‘inadvertently’ disposed of at the lower rate thus reducing your tax liability even further…!

Why has this come about…?  Revenue Scotland held several meetings with waste industry practitioners where a proposal to tighten the former HMRC taxation guidance was tabled.  But after three months of silence SEPA completely ignored the industry proposal and opted for softer regulations.  Their overriding rationale being that they are finding it difficult to manage disposal sites, which are exempt from landfill licencing regulations, and ‘believe’ that by lowering the taxation rate that unscrupulous operators will suddenly change there ways and now dispose of soils at landfill sites.  The industry has evidenced against SEPA’s belief but as they are the collector of the taxation for Revenue Scotland it was no surprise that the consultation found in favour of SEPA’s perverted views.

And what about the soil recycling and remediation industry…?  We’re off to buy some lorries and shares in landfill sites…!

Long live ‘dig and dump’ and stuff recycling.

How do you treat Giant Hogweed?

Of the major invasive plant species problems in the UK Giant Hogweed potentially presents the greatest human health risk.  Although less headline grabbing than Japanese Knotweed it still represents a significant challange to the biodiversity of our environment.  As the photo above shows, when it gains a proper foothold it isn’t long before it out competes everything else and becomes a forest.  The perspective is a bit difficult to grasp initially but if you keep in mind that the photo was taken from a bridge over a railway cutting, the tree in the back of centre frame is a mature tree and the majority of the Hogweed in that photo is 3m or more in height you get some idea of how imposingly large this plant can get.

The plant is utterly spectacular when grown to it’s full 5m height and in bloom but the spectacle of the giant white flower heads and huge jagged leaves belies a very nasty surprise if you get too close.  The sap of the Giant Hogweed plant contains chemicals called furanocoumarins which make your skin sensitive to light in a condition called photodermatitis which ‘burns’ to produce blisters which will leave extremely painful and unsightly purple scars.  If you like gory photos then examples of these injuries can be seen here and here.  It can damage your vision and could cause blindness if the sap gets into your eyes.  This photosensitivity can persist long after contact leading to years of discomfort any time that area is exposed to sunlight.  If you even think you’ve got this sap on you wash the area throughly in cold water, keep the affected area out of sunlight and get medical attention at the first sign of a reaction.

So if it crops up on your property what do you do about it?  The plant typically takes 2 to 3 years to reach maturity and produce a flower but the sap retains its harmful qualities throughout the life cycle of the plant and can be transferred to skin by the fine hairs on the stalks and leaves of the plant.  So you’ve got a bit of time to react if the plant is immature but protective clothing is a must.  The crucial thing is to do something before the flower heads turn into seed heads and the ground becomes a carpet of seeds every time the wind blows.

The most effective method of control is herbicide application.  As ever bear in mind that it is a legal requirement that herbicides be applied in accordance with the product licence by suitably qualified individuals.  The exact methodology will be dependant upon a range of factors but more than one treatment is going to be required to kill this plant.

Unlike other some other invasive species a program of physical destruction can be successful at removing a stand of Giant Hogweed.  Remember that physical damage of the plant will release sap and while viable for small stands this approach is labour intensive and could well be more cost prohibitive than herbicide applications.  The exact manner of this destruction should be tailored to the circumstances on site and will depend upon the size and numbers of the plants and point in the growing season. Any program of physical destruction must be carefully executed to sufficiently damage the plants and ensure destruction and planned with monitoring and repeated rounds of destruction to catch any regrowth and destroy the young plants which sprout from seed present in the soil in subsequent growing seasons.

If you happen to have a ready supply of herbivorous animals which can be put to work sheep and cattle can be used to graze and trample down young hogweed plants.  This has been shown to be effective but is most effective on small plants particulalry if started early in the growning season.  It is also crucial to closely monitor the livestock and ensure that they have access to forage other than Giant Hogweed.

Call us on  0800 0209 307 with any questions on Giant Hogweed, alternatively follow the link below for our online guide to Giant Hogweed.

Giant Hogweed Removal Guide