Hazardous Waste Regulations

Businesses that produce hazardous waste need to abide by a huge range of compliance responsibilities and numerous environmental regulations. These business bear a significant liability which can be alleviated to a large extent, but never ever completely eliminated. In the event that hazardous waste is mishandled, there can be substantial punitive damages and public relations damage to a company.

Waste management offences under the Waste Management Regulations can be prevented, or at least steered clear of, by carrying out a number of practices that decreases the danger of the generator.

The UK Definition of Hazardous Waste

Watch this on YouTube What is Hazardous Waste – here.

The European Law term of “hazardous” waste has replaced the previous UK term of Special Waste1, as in the Special Waste regulations 1996.

First of all, what is “waste”. The legal definition comes from Directive 75/442/EEC, as amended by the Waste framework Directive.

What is the Definition of Waste?

Waste is “any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard.”

Hazardous Waste Regulations

The term “hazardous waste” comes from the Hazardous Waste Directive 91/689/EC and this provides a Europe-wide definition. A hazardous waste is any waste featuring on a list compiled by the European Commission as Annexes I and II of the Hazardous Waste Directive, and which displays one or more of the hazardous properties set out in the Annex III of that Directive. The hazardous properties are for example; explosive, flammable, corrosive, infectious etc.

The European Commission also compiled a list of all wastes, intended to be comprehensive. This is called the European Waste Catalogue (EWC). In a Commission decision (94/904/EC) it was then identified which of those wastes in the EWC were “hazardous”, by referring to the hazardous properties in Annex III of the Hazardous Waste Directive. This was called the Hazardous Waste List (HWL), and this has now been revised and incorporated into the EWC.

The result is that the “hazardous waste regulations” now includes a number of waste types which were not considered to be hazardous previously. These include televisions, computers, fluorescent lighting and end of life vehicles.

The above can be summarised as:

“A waste is hazardous if it is listed as hazardous in the EWC and exhibits one or more of the hazardous properties in Annex III of the Hazardous Waste Directive.”

All this appears reasonably logical, despite the fact that several Directives have been involved.

However, things become less clear when one begins to use the EWC, and one realises that a further term appears in the EWC. When referring to the EWC many hazardous wastes listed in the EWC are described as containing “dangerous substances”. (See the List.)

Dangerous substances

A dangerous substance in the EWC means any substance classified as a dangerous substance by the Directive 67/548/EEC (the Dangerous Substances Directive – DSD).

The DSD defines “dangerous” – and this is where things may become confusing – by a list of properties similar but not identical to Annex III of the Hazardous Waste Directive. Within the concept of a dangerous substance, threshold levels are important, below which the substance/waste may not be classified as dangerous.

The UK Environment Agency has provided guidance (Technical Guidance WM2) to endeavour to remove this complexity.


While we have endeavoured to explain the above legal definitions of these terms, the subject is complex and the regulations are themselves liable to lead to confusion. We cannot accept any liability whatsoever for the information contained herein. If uncertain obtain expert/legal advice.

Note: 1 – The term Special Waste may still be in use in Northern Ireland ( March 2005).

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