Introduction of a UK - wide digital waste tracking system: partial business regulatory impact assessment

A business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA) to assess the impact on Scotland of proposals to implement a UK-wide mandatory waste tracking system. This accompanies a UK-wide consultation on these proposals, available here:

2. Purpose and intended effect

2.1 Background

4. Scotland is committed to building a circular economy, meaning we reduce demand for raw materials by keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extract maximum value from them, minimise waste and encouraging reuse, repair and recycling, to ensure products last as long as possible. To do this we must ensure we have the information about what waste is being produced and where it ends up. Around 11.5 million tonnes of waste is produced in Scotland each year[1], but there is currently no single or comprehensive system to track it.

5. The Scottish Government also wants to support and make the system fairer for those operating legally. At present waste tracking is carried out using largely paper-based record-keeping, making it very difficult to track waste effectively. Waste can be fraudulently reclassified and transferred, or simply be illegally dumped, at which point the paper trail disappears. This makes it difficult to identify and deal with waste crime ranging from fly tipping and deliberate misclassification to illegal waste exports and the operation of illegal waste sites.

6. In order to meet Circular Economy commitments, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have been working with the other UK administrations and regulators to develop and introduce a waste tracking system for hazardous waste[2]. Separately, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) legislation has been introduced to mandate the tracking of POPs waste[3]. In addition, In our Circular Economy Strategy[4], the Scottish Government committed to move towards mandatory use of the electronic “EDOC‟ system for waste in Scotland. This policy proposes to supersede the circular economy commitments and the proposals made in the POPs legislation, to introduce a mandatory waste tracking system for all waste.

7. Development of a mandatory waste tracking system in the UK will also help to meet regulatory requirements under the persistent Organic Pollutants Regulations[5]. as well as delivering on recommendations from the National Infrastructure Assessment[6], and the Life Smart Waste project led by SEPA[7].

2.2 Regulatory background

8. Currently in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, there is no comprehensive service for ‘tracking’ waste transactions. Multiple IT services collect specific elements of waste data, but large amounts of data are either not collected, or not collated centrally. The overall picture is of a fragmented set of services that do not ‘talk’ to each other.

9. Legal requirements are focussed on having a written description of the waste that should be transferred along the supply chain when the waste is passed from one holder to another. Handwritten or digital waste descriptions of the wastes composition and details of the waste transaction must be accurate and contain all the information the holder is reasonably in a position to provide to ensure the lawful and safe handling, transport, treatment, recovery or disposal of the waste by subsequent holders.

10. Those receiving waste must ensure that the waste matches the written description and that any permit[8], if applicable, allows the acceptance of such waste. Those operating under a waste exemption must ensure that any waste received does not contravene the exemption[9] criteria e.g. waste limits or types.

11. The specific legal requirements for the information that must be recorded when waste is moved or transferred differ depending on the type of waste being handled and how the waste is transferred/moved.

  • Non-hazardous waste - waste that does not display properties that would classify it as hazardous waste
  • Hazardous waste – waste that displays specified properties that might make it more harmful to human health or the environment if not managed appropriately
  • “Green List” waste movements - includes types of waste that are considered to pose a low risk to the environment when shipped to EU/OECD and some non-OECD countries for recycling or recovery.

12. It is estimated that each year there are at least 2.1m (see Table 1) and 26m notes recording waste movements/transfers being issued each year in the UK[10]. The 26m estimation counts season tickets as one note, but these could represent many hundreds of movements each year. Recent estimates suggest that there are around 500 million waste transactions each year in the UK[11].

Table 1 – Number of waste transfers and movement notes issued annually in Scotland (estimated [12])
Waste type Notes
Non-hazardous waste 2m waste transfer notes[13]
Hazardous waste 78,500 consignment notes[14]
Green list waste 29,000 Annex VII notes
Total 2.1m notes

Non-hazardous waste

13. Legislation[15] states that when non-hazardous waste is transferred from one holder to another, an agreed written description of the waste should also be transferred. This is known as a ‘waste transfer note’ and should include the waste description and code, information about how the waste is contained, details of the parties involved in the transfer, as well as other information specified in the ‘ Duty of Care Code of Practice’[16].

14. Waste transfer notes can be completed in several different ways; in paper form, online via the voluntary Electronic Duty of Care (edoc) service[17], or by using an operator’s own electronic services. These notes do not need to be submitted centrally, unless requested.

15. Where the same type of waste is transferred regularly between the same parties a ‘season ticket’ may be used. A season ticket is a single waste transfer note that covers a series of non-hazardous waste transfers. Businesses are expected to keep a log of individual transfers covered by a season ticket for audit purposes.

16. A waste transfer note is currently not required for non-hazardous waste if the waste holder does not change on the transfer of waste e.g. the waste is moved to other premises belonging to the same business. Under the Duty of Care Codes of Practice[18], however, businesses are expected to keep a record of internal transfers for audit purposes.

Hazardous waste

17. Waste legislation[19] requires hazardous waste producers, carriers, brokers, dealers, permitted/authorised treatment sites and some exempt waste sites to keep certain records relating to the production, transport and management of hazardous waste. Currently, moving hazardous waste involves a similar transfer of information to moving non-hazardous waste albeit more information is required for hazardous waste movements[20].

18. Details of the waste moved must be recorded on ‘consignment notes’ and these must be completed for all movements of hazardous waste including movements from one premise to another within the same business. The only two exceptions where a consignment note is not needed are where domestic hazardous waste (other than asbestos waste) is removed from a domestic household or waste is imported or exported under international waste shipment controls[21].

19. Businesses that handle hazardous waste are required to use consignment notes and obtain a hazardous waste code from SEPA to put on their consignment note.

20. Circular Economy commitments[22] will require records of hazardous waste movements to be made available to the relevant regulator through an electronic registry. Therefore, a new IT service will be required to enable businesses to submit records of hazardous waste movements into a central system. Businesses will need to digitally record and submit the quantity and nature of materials and products resulting from re-use, recycling, or other recovery of hazardous waste.

21. These requirements, to submit records relating to the production, transport and management of hazardous waste, will also apply to waste containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) (which may be either hazardous or non-hazardous) following new Persistent Organic Pollutants Regulations[23].

“Green List" waste movements (non-hazardous waste that is imported/exported abroad)

22. An ‘Annex VII’ document must be completed and travel with “Green List” waste at all times. This must contain information regarding who has arranged the shipment of the waste, who is transporting it, as well as information about the waste’s description (including required identification codes) and details of where it is being taken. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Annex VII forms for waste exports must be submitted to the relevant regulatory agency in advance of the movement taking place; however, in England and Wales, there are currently no requirements for exporters to pre-notify the regulator or to submit any information on these exports.

2.3 Objective and rationale

23. The current regulations, and supporting IT, do not enable waste to be easily and consistently tracked from the point of production to end fate.

24. Multiple IT systems collect specific elements of waste tracking data[24] – but large amounts of data are either not collected or not collated centrally. Some data are paper-based and other data are captured digitally. Some data are managed by private contractors, whilst other data are managed by Government or the regulatory agencies. There are separate services for household waste, commercial waste, hazardous waste and international waste shipments. As government requirements have changed over time, various add-ons and separate databases have been developed in isolation. Therefore, the overall picture is of a fragmented set of systems that do not ‘talk’ to each other.

25. Many of the existing digital services available for businesses to record non-hazardous waste transactions are voluntary – as a result, the use of these services is very low. In 2016, only 150 organisations a month voluntarily used EDOC (a non-mandatory service for commercial waste transfers). This compares to the 5.5m businesses that are estimated to be carrying out non-hazardous waste transactions across the UK[25].

26. The lack of a central digital service for recording waste movements/transfers presents several problems:

  • Policymakers do not have sufficient data to monitor the effectiveness of interventions and identify opportunities to move towards a Circular Economy[26].
  • Up to date information is not available to allow the efficient and effective regulation of waste.
  • There is opportunity to commit waste crime – waste can easily be ‘lost’ or deliberately misclassified - regulators cannot easily gather or interrogate the information needed in order to investigate waste crime – and producers cannot easily check how their waste has been treated.
  • Regulators and policymakers do not have access to data on the treatment or end fate of waste (e.g. if materials are recycled into something or if material is disposed of in landfill or is incinerated).
  • Industry lacks information on products from waste that could be used to reduce raw material costs for example.
  • It is more difficult and time consuming for producers of waste to comply with their duty of care.
  • Lack of reliable information for infrastructure planning and investment.

27. Outputs from a 2021 questionnaire to the Waste Tracking User Panel[27] found that 13% of waste operators currently use paper records only for recording movements of waste. The pen and paper approach to completing these records is inadequate as producers often do not know what has happened to their waste and are not confident their waste has been handled correctly. In addition, regulators do not have easy access to the information they need to monitor waste activities. Using paper records also allows operators undertaking illegal activities to operate with impunity, safe in the knowledge that regulators lack comprehensive data on the waste they have handled.

Table 2 - How businesses currently keep records for waste transfers, movements, and shipments in Scotland
Non-hazardous waste Hazardous waste Green List waste
Both paper and electronic records 69% 74% 63%
Paper records only 15% 13% 17%
Electronic records only 16% 13% 20%

28. In order to effectively regulate and manage waste, make the most of the resources within waste and discourage its production in the first place, an effective waste tracking service needs to provide information on:

  • What the waste is.
  • Who produces waste.
  • Who is responsible for the waste at any point in the journey (including treatment).
  • How the waste is treated.
  • Where it ends up, and in what form.
  • The description of the recyclate.
  • Any products or materials that have been made from waste.

29. There are gaps in our knowledge of all the above – particularly with regards to commercial and industrial wastes and how waste is treated at a small number of exempt sites[28].

30. Being able to track waste, and resources, will transform the way that waste is regulated and provide the information that agencies need to prioritise regulatory activities, tackle waste crime and support a shift to a circular economy.

31. The key objectives of the implementation of a digital waste tracking system are therefore to:

  • Integrate and simplify recording of all waste movements and transfers.
  • Improve the quality and accuracy of data on waste movements and transfers.
  • Reduce the opportunities to commit waste crime (and in turn reduce the negative environmental impacts, risk to human health, and disamenity effects associated with waste crime).
  • Ensure that the data captured is easily accessible and usable.
  • Realise efficiencies and resource savings and remove risks associated with existing legacy services.

2.3.1 Social and environmental negative impacts

32. Under the current waste regulations, significant negative impacts result from criminal activity in the waste industry, such as risk to human health, and disamenity effects.

33. Negative impacts arise from disposing of waste in a non-compliant manner (e.g. not recycling, disposing of hazardous waste unsafely and fly-tipping). Operators do this to avoid the costs associated with the correct disposal of waste (for example, paying landfill tax). However, in doing so, there are costs to society and the environment – including, carbon emissions, the release of harmful chemicals, the release of foul odours, pollution of surface or groundwater, noise and dust from vehicle movements or on-site operations, or safety risks from fires.

34. A waste tracking system will reduce the amount of ‘waste crime’ that is committed in the UK by reducing the incentive for waste operators to act illegally on the basis that they’re more likely to be caught committing crimes. Specifically, mandating that digital records of waste transactions are uploaded into a central system will enable regulators to identify when ‘waste goes missing’ and/or when ‘the description of waste changes’. In addition, once waste is added to the system (and is being ‘tracked’), any subsequent omissions in the data trail will raise an alert to the regulator. This intelligence will support regulators to carry out more targeted monitoring of compliance and provide useful evidence to effectively enforce against criminal activity.

35. Being able to track timely data on waste movements to regulated sites would mean that interventions to prevent waste crime could be proactive, rather than reactive - for example when a site receives a waste that it is not permitted to accept or it is nearing its maximum capacity, regulators could respond accordingly. Data on site activities is currently submitted to the agencies in quarterly returns – potentially up to three months after a given waste movement, so little value can be extracted from the available information.

36. The Independent Serious and Organised Waste Crime Review in England[29] highlighted that the lack of digital record-keeping in the waste industry is frequently exploited by organised criminals, as it provides ample opportunity to hide evidence of the systematic mishandling of waste. This report recommended that to better address the problems we face, mandatory electronic (digital) tracking of waste should be introduced at the earliest opportunity.



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