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Make sure you obey the law

 It’s not impossible to stay on top of the UK’s flourishing environmental regulations, but a structured approach is needed

Let’s assume you don’t spend your quieter hours sitting in front of BBC Parliament, taking notes about the various white papers and parliamentary bills rebounding off the shiny green seats. If this is indeed the case, then it is quite possible that your knowledge of environmental legislation might be somewhat rudimentary. This could be a problem.

For although the environment may be making fewer headlines of late, as the continuing global recession has moved ecological matters further down the news agenda, legislation in the area continues to evolve rapidly – much of it affecting print companies. Hence, while print customers may not be hugely focused on eco credentials, printers need to keep their finger on the eco pulse to avoid potentially extremely severe penalties.

Environmental regulations cover a wide area of business and are housed in a number of different legislative documents, so keeping up to date can be tricky. Issues to keep on top of are as diverse as planning rules concerning noise or restrictions on transport, and pollution as a result of spillages or via contamination of the ground.

“Ink tanks are a particular concern and often have bunds around them to contain leaks,” says commercial and dispute resolution lawyer Philippa Dempster, a partner at Freeth Cartwright. There are also waste packaging regulations to consider, as well as waste itself. “Although printers may use a contractor to remove their waste, they have a statutory duty of care to ensure that their waste is handled and disposed of safely and in accordance with legal obligations,” explains Dempster. “Contracts are therefore very important, as are spot checks.” (see page 24 for more information).

Beyond these areas, however, there are several pieces of legislation with which printers will need to be familiar and they may have to take a broad brush to their research, as most of this law is general and applies to industry across the board.

“Environmental legislation in this country is usually framed so it could apply to any business, so there isn’t any set of legislation that says ‘This is what printers have to do’,”explains corporate social responsibility consultant Dick Dalley. “There is an exception to that. There is a certain set of regulations that applies specifically to printers, and my experience in the past is that many large print sites have been caught out by these regulations.”

They pertain to solvent emissions. Many inks and other printing chemicals are carried in solvents, or volatile organic compounds, and emission of them into the atmosphere is a concern in terms of pollution control as solvent fumes can contribute to smog formation. Under the Environmental Permitting (England andWales) Regulations, or equivalent legislation in Scotland or Northern Ireland, printers who handle more than a certain quantity of solvents annually will require a permit to be able to operate their whole print site. They are known as ‘part B’ permits for the section of the regulations from which they come.

The amount of solvent handled can be worked out from the amount of ink used and how much solvent is in that ink, and the threshold beyond which a permit is required depends on the print technology being used: for heatset web offset it’s 15 tonnes a year; for coldset web offset 25 tonnes, and so on.

 

Check legislation frequently

As developments in environment legislation – both in the specific print-related legislation such as solvents, and more general regulations – happen frequently, Dalley recommends checking the law annually as a minimum and preferably every six months. One way of keeping up to date is via the environmental pages on the government’s business websites – there are separate sites for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with the information on support and compliance tailored accordingly for each jurisdiction.

The other most commonly used way of staying in touch with developments is through trade associations. The BPIF, for example, carries out site checks and offers one-to-one support on what is needed to comply with legislation, and runs workshops on various aspects of environmental best practice (see box). These are advertised regionally and are generally free to members, although some seminars cost £45 and the workshop on lean manufacturing is £120 for a full day’s training. The legislation update courses run twice a year.

Increasingly, printers – particularly larger companies – have taken to educating themselves, however, by applying for certification in environmental management to the international standard ISO 14001. One of the requirements is that the company demonstrate that it understands all the environmental legislation that applies to it and is complying with it.

“Companies that have gone down that route must have a system in place for tracking legislation, and if you are certified to those standards an independent auditor will come and check you once or twice a year,” says Dalley.

However you choose to keep up to date, you have to make sure it is a comprehensive method because, while failure to comply with the appropriate legislation is initially likely to result in a ticking off from the regulator, things could ultimately prove costly if the law is persistently or seriously breached.

Each piece of legislation will have an identified regulator – usually either the Environment Agency in England and Wales or the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency in Scotland, or the local authority’s environmental health department.

“If you don’t comply, usually there’s a dialogue with the regulator,” explains Dalley. “The regulator comes along and says, ‘We don’t think you’re complying, what are you going to do about it?’”

Enforcement can also include ‘stop notices’ – a demand that the cause of any particular problem should cease. This can halt or seriously curtail production.

“I had a case recently where because of a fault on the equipment controlling emissions, the company was in danger of having the presses stopped for certain times during the day – or completely while the equipment was remedied,” says Dempster.

Persistent non-compliance can lead to a court appearance, and breaches of environmental law are criminal offences. A director or employee receiving a criminal record is, if nothing else, bad PR.

“Individual directors, managers and company secretaries can all be personally prosecuted if the regulator considers that they have deliberately or negligently contributed to the offences,” adds Dempster. “They could also be disqualified from being directors in the future.”

Or they could cease to be a ‘fit and proper person’ and be prevented from holding environmental permits or from obtaining contracts from local or central government authorities.

 

Stiff penalties

The offences are ‘triable both ways’, meaning they could be prosecuted in either the magistrates’ courts or the Crown Courts. In the former, the maximum penalties are fines of up to £50,000 per offence, or up to five years imprisonment for something like illegal disposal of hazardous waste. In the latter, fines are unlimited and prison sentences can be up to five years per offence.

It is, however, unlikely ever to get to this point.

“I think it would be extraordinarily rare for a print company to be taken to court,” says Dalley. “For a director of a print company to be sent to prison, it would have to be something so extreme and so persistent that it would be almost inconceivable. I’ve found from talking to print companies that the most important thing is that they get to know their local regulator. What would happen is there’d be a dialogue and they’d ask you to do certain things and then, if you’re behaving properly and you do what they ask you to do, that’ll be the end of it. That’s the way it usually works. To be prosecuted you have to have done something fairly desperate.”

Nor is compliance especially prohibitive financially, usually being factored into other capital expenditure. There are costs associated with things such as storage of liquid chemicals like ink, but with continuous investment in new equipment, environmental compliance is just one component of that overall cost. It’s certainly a small price to pay to avoid the whole operation going down the drain.

So, while the environmental legislation in the UK may seem intimidating and ever changing, with the right advice and the right processes, it does not have to be a heavy weight on already overloaded shoulders. Closing your eyes to the regulations could get you in serious trouble, and embracing compliance is not just about keeping your nose clean – it should be remembered that eco compliance also brings wider cost and business benefits to companies too. ?

 

Relevant laws

Environmental Protection Act 1990; part II covers the main waste offences and part III covers statutory nuisance such as noise pollution. Part IIA also contains the Contaminated Land Regime, which empowers local authorities and the Environment Agency to require clean-up and recover the costs of any damage. This is usually enforced by the local authority with the Environment Agency also having some powers.

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 cover the permits required for handling solvents above a certain quantity and also replaced the Water Resources Act 1991 for water-pollution offences.

Town and Country Planning Act 1990 covers planning issues. This is enforced by the local authority or the county or unitary authorities.

 

Where to get help

Keep up to date via the government’s business websites:

England bit.ly/i0SXzx

Northern Ireland bit.ly/xVYCQ9

Scotland bit.ly/wGAXdt

Wales bit.ly/x9ZBnq

 

Or at BPIF workshops:

 

  • Managers’ and supervisors’ responsibilities
  • Environmental challenges for printers
  • Waste management
  • Legislation updates
  • Process reviews
  • Waste diagnostics
  • Lean manufacturing
  • How to calculate your carbon footprint
  • How to reduce your carbon footprint
  • How to offset carbon usage l Training in lean manufacturing principles

Visit britishprint.com for more information

@chriswhite_twit