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A Burning Issue – Changes to Agricultural Waste Disposal Regulations

A Burning Issue – Changes to Agricultural Waste Disposal Regulations

Waste management – and in particular the reduction of waste and increase in recycling rates – is a key issue for the Scottish Government and for all landowners in these environmentally conscious times.  As part of the Government’s ‘Zero Waste Scotland’ strategy, the exemptions which previously allowed the burning of most types of agricultural waste on farms, including plastic, came to an end as from 1 January 2019.  The change was announced by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in August 2018, with the aim of encouraging a reduction in the amount of waste, particularly plastic waste, generated by agricultural operations.   

SEPA implemented a number of measures to assist farmers with the transition in the build up to the ban and also published guidance on the subject, including guidance for rural and island communities where disposal options may be limited.

The effect of the ban is that plastics, cardboard, metal, paper, glass and food waste can no longer be burned or buried on agricultural land.  Instead, those generating waste are obliged to implement a ‘waste hierarchy’ strategy. This means that, in order of preference, farmers should avoid generating waste in the first place if possible, reduce any waste that is generated and reuse materials as far as possible.  For any materials which cannot be recycled or reused, there are a number of disposal options available.  One option is to transport waste to a local collection centre for recycling.  Before doing so, you must contact SEPA and apply to be placed on their register of Professional Collectors and Transporters of Waste.  There is no fee for this. 

Another option is to arrange for the waste to be collected from your farm by a specialist contractor.  Agricultural waste is legally classed as ‘commercial waste’.  You can ask your local authority to provide a collection service, but the authority is entitled to charge a fee for the service.  If no collection service is available, as a last resort you should take waste to your local transfer station, landfill site or incinerator.

Despite the ban, some very limited types of waste can still be burned on farms after 1 January 2019, provided the burning does not cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health.  This applies for example to biomass such as vegetable waste from agriculture and forestry, vegetable waste from food processing and uncontaminated wood waste.

Uncontaminated cork waste and animal carcasses can also be burned in very specific circumstances, which amongst other provisions requires that the waste is burned at the same place where it was produced and by the person who produced it. 

Detailed guidance and application forms for the relevant licences in relation to waste management can be found on SEPA’s website.

For further information and advice in relation to waste management regulations, please contact a member of the Land and Rural Business team.


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About the author

Zoe Irving
Zoe Irving

Zoe Irving

Senior Solicitor

Land & Rural Business

For more information, contact Zoe Irving or any member of the Land & Rural Business team on +44 1738 472771.