Major reforms to waste exemptions in the pipeline

  • 28 February 2023 28 February 2023
  • UK & Europe

  • Regulatory & Investigations

Defra has recently announced a major shake-up in the waste exemptions regime in England and Wales, with some key reforms in the pipeline to be introduced.

The waste exemptions regime provides a system where certain “low risk” waste activities can be carried out without the need for an environmental permit. Instead, businesses can utilise the benefit of a range of exemptions, albeit they have strict conditions, limitations and requirements which must be followed.

The reforms come as the government is alive to there being some abuse of the existing exemption regime in place. As a result, some exemptions are being overhauled, and in some circumstances removed in their entirety to try to combat this.  

For some operators, exemptions almost acted as a loophole, where some classifications of waste were able to be easily disposed of without tight regulation in place.

Following a consultation back in 2018[1], Defra recently issued a supplementary government response[2]. This highlights the need for reform and the need to reduce abuse of the existing regime under the waste exemptions.

Changes and removal of waste exemptions

Defra will now be removing those waste exemptions which have effectively encouraged or masked improper or illegal waste activity, along with reforms to the conditions of a number of other exemptions.

The below table sets out a summary of the changes to be made to ten waste exemptions. These have been identified of most concern by Defra:


What is happening?

U1 – Use of waste in construction

Changing conditions

U16 – Use of depolluted ELVs for parts


T4 – Preparatory treatments

Changing conditions

T6 – Treatment of waste wood

Changing conditions

T8 – Mechanically treating end-of-life tyres


T9 – Recovery of scrap metal


T12 – Manual treatment

Changing conditions

D7 – Burning of vegetation at the place of production only

Changing conditions

S1 – Storage in containers

Changing conditions

S2 – Storage in a secure place

Changing conditions


The government’s recent supplementary response provides some context into the rationale behind the removal of the above three exemptions:

  • High levels of illegal activity were associated, in particular, with the U16 exemption, with 86% of respondents in favour of its removal due to the negative impact on legitimate businesses;
  • 78% of respondents supported the change or removal of the T8 exemption, due to the high level of fire risk associated with tyre storage; and  
  • Similarly, 82% of respondents favoured the removal of the T9 exemption, again for associated fire risks, alongside the need to ensure proper site draining and monitoring for scrap metal recoveries.

Transition period

Defra is aiming for these amendments to be made within the next year. Once the changes have formally been implemented, those operators utilising any of the exemptions being removed, will now be required to apply for an environmental permit. Defra will be making provisions for those operators to be able to continue to operate under the existing exemptions after the transition date, so long as permit applications have been submitted prior to the transition date.   

For those waste exemptions being amended, businesses will be able to continue operating under the existing exemptions until the end of the transition period. At the conclusion of the transition period they will then need to comply with the changing conditions to ensure compliance going forwards.

Impact for businesses

Many businesses have utilised exemptions for years. The changes may have a great impact on their day-to-day operations.

Companies should therefore ensure they are aware of the changes to the exemptions in good time. This will ensure the necessary steps can be managed to ensure compliance with the new regulatory requirements coming into force.

The underlying goal of removing and amending these exemptions is to try and reduce associated illegal activity and to minimise the negative effects of such activity on legitimate businesses.

Looking forwards, businesses should expect that regulators will be keen to ensure businesses are compliant after the transition period and should fully expect this to be a key focus in due course.


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