Keeping on the Right Side of Environmental Law.

12 November, 2014

Environmental law is very wide ranging and detailed. Keeping up to date and complying with the legislation and guidance issued by the EU, the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Food Standards Agency, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) can be a challenge for any food and drink based business.

Some of the key issues requiring consideration or action at the various stages of manufacturing, production and processing are highlighted below. However, this is not a definitive list and, it is important to identify all of the compliance requirements and potential pitfalls which may apply to your particular business operation and review those on a regular basis. Some Key Environmental Issues: Refrigeration – the equipment used may contain hazardous substances (such as ozone depleting substances or fluorinated gases).

As well as the equipment being appropriately labelled, essential maintenance and regular servicing must be carried out by suitably qualified staff to ensure that such substances do not escape and cause pollution.

Records of all checks should be kept on site. Packaging – there are specific regulations applicable to businesses that produce packaged goods, design packaging or fill packaging to sell on. These are in place to ensure that the amount of packaging waste created, later in the life of a product, is minimised or that such packaging can at least be reused, recovered or recycled.

The volume and weight of packaging used should be the minimum required for safety, hygiene and customer acceptability and the packaging should not contain high levels of noxious substances (such as heavy metals in respect of which there are set limits). Storage & Handling – food ingredients must never enter surface water drains or watercourses. Bacteria in the water environment can facilitate a reaction with such ingredients causing pollution and potentially restricting oxygen supplies which can result in problems for fish and plant life. Such pollution is an offence under environmental legislation and can be criminally prosecuted.

There are particular requirements for the storage of oil based products and certain liquids (such as milk and fruit juice) and these must be stored within impermeable containers. Good practice dictates that you should take measures to prevent spillage or escape of food ingredients and ensure that you have a pollution incident procedure in place for dealing with any spills that do occur. Nuisance – processing operations have the potential to cause nuisance to the public via noise, odour or smoke. Causing a nuisance and failing to remedy it when it is brought to your attention can result in legal action or a restriction on your business activities.

This is particularly relevant if the nuisance constitutes a breach of any environmental permit, licence or exemption that you have in place. Permits and Licences – depending on the nature of your business activities, there are several different consents which you may need to obtain and comply with: authorisations for the abstraction or discharge of water; trade effluent consents for discharge into a public sewer; waste carrier, broker or dealer registrations in relation to the handling of controlled waste; hazardous waste notifications where waste is potentially harmful to the environment or human health; waste management licences or pollution, prevention and control permits which regulate activities such as energy production and those which involve the use of chemicals.

It is imperative that you ascertain what consents are required prior to commencing any business operations. Resource efficiency – there is an ever increasing number of targets relating to the efficient use of natural resources. All business should try to promote sustainability both for environmental and economic reasons by using water more efficiently; recycling or re-using materials where possible; reducing the impact of transport by considering load sizes, journey times and routes; introducing energy efficient practices and sharing best practice on all of these matters throughout their business.  Regardless of how well a business is run, there is always the chance that something might go wrong. The receipt of a warning letter or enforcement notice from a regulatory authority such as SEPA or the HSE is something which should be taken very seriously.

On most occasions, early compliance may prevent further enforcement action or prosecution which could be damaging to a business’ reputation or financial position.Therefore, involving an expert – such as Davidson Chalmers – as soon as a notice is received is recommended. Laura Tainsh is a partner and environmental and waste specialist with commercial law firm Davidson Chalmers. To find out more about Davidson Chalmers and how they can help your business please visit www.davidsonchalmers.com.

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