Acquittal – Waste Duty of Care

I recently came across a newspaper article from 2011 about a signage company who had been charged with Waste Duty of Care offences. In a nutshell, after unpacking a sign, the company had given a box with the company’s name on it to a passerby who said they could used it. The box later turned up in a lay-by full of rubbish and the company were charged. Investigation by the council later revealed that the waste obviously didn’t belong to the company, but the council persisted with the prosecution on the basis that the company had failed to dispose of the box properly.

Fortunately, the judge showed a great deal of common sense declaring the case to be “a monumental waste of public time and money” (about £15,000!) and threw out the case by directing the jury as follows:

“This company is charged with failing to take reasonable measures to ensure that the transfer of controlled waste from its premises was only to an authorised person. The first question is therefore were the cardboard boxes in question waste? Packaging such as boxes received by a company like Electrosigns is not waste when it is delivered to the company. Nor do boxes become waste as soon as the contents are removed. If a company chooses to keep and re-use boxes, they remain the property of the company and an asset. If the company keeps boxes for its own use but then chooses to give or sell boxes to another party that is not discarding them.”

What’s important about this? Simply that it sheds light on a grey area regarding when something becomes waste in the first place. Effectively, the judge decided that giving the box to someone else who could use it didn’t mean that the company had “discarded” the box so that it became waste, and as it wasn’t waste, they didn’t commit a Waste Duty of Care offence. (Think about all the empty boxes supermarkets give away to customers to pack what they’ve bought …!!)

I can’t help wondering how much use the construction industry could make of this this “asset rather than waste” principle when dealing with surplus materials at the end of a job. Under this ruling, it appears that as long as you regularly keep, give away or sell surplus usable materials at the end of the job (ie regard them as a useful “asset” rather than useless “waste”), they’re not waste and so waste legislation such as the Duty of Care doesn’t apply to them, making far easier to get them back into productive use (and which, incidentally, also fulfills your Duty under the Waste Hierarchy … ie to prevent waste occurring in the first place …).

(Snaresbrook Crown Court, 21 September 2011)

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