Petition Review the Regulation of Odour Management of Landfill Sites
We call for the Government to review how the Environment Agency monitors and manages levels of malodourous gasses. Consideration should be given to compulsory monitoring of emissions of landfill sites and for the EA to be obliged to act with urgency when high levels of odour complaints are received.
Many communities are blighted by odour issues from landfill sites. The odour from a poorly managed landfill site can reach for many miles around and affect thousands of residents directly in their own homes, workplaces and places of leisure. The malodourous gasses can greatly affect physical and mental health. It should not be acceptable that communities suffer continuous or persistent odour issues from landfill sites and living in close proximity to one should not be detrimental to residents.
This response was given on 21 May 2021
The Environment Agency regulates environmental permits that set limits, including for malodours, within which operations can be undertaken without causing a significant impact on the environment.
In recent years, the Government has taken action to enhance the operation of the waste sector. Waste facilities are now required to have a written management system, designed to minimise the risk of pollution and reduce the impact on local communities and the environment. These management systems should cover topics including odour, fly, noise and dust management, with the necessary topics dependent on each site.
Whilst no landfill will ever be completely odour free, the level and type of odour arising from such operations should not be causing serious offence. The Environment Agency (EA) issues and regulates environmental permits in England for activities that could harm the environment or human health, including landfill sites. Environmental permits set limits, including for odours, within which operations can be undertaken without causing a significant impact on the environment. Operators must provide an Odour Management Plan describing measures they will take to minimise odour. EA guidance sets out how the monitoring should be carried out, the required competency of staff and the equipment to be used.
If the plan is accepted, it is incorporated into the permit as an ‘operating technique’. The operator should keep that plan under review but it can be required to be updated if there is a problem or if it is not working as originally intended. The EA also imposes a condition that requires the operator to use those approved measures to manage their activity to minimise odour emissions. If it is deemed that the operator will not be able to manage odour, the EA can refuse the application.
Where an operator is not complying with their permit, or there are issues of poor performance, the EA has a range of powers and enforcement options that it can use. In the first instance, it will usually give advice and guidance, or issue a warning, aiming to bring the operator back into compliance. If further action is required and evidence is sufficient to pursue a case, the EA can use civil sanction stop notices or can suspend or revoke a permit.
Monitoring odour levels from landfill can be challenging so there are no numerical limits for odour or particular gases in landfill permits. This is due to the variability of the gas composition, rapid dispersion once it escapes the waste mass, and challenges in monitoring this. The EA therefore uses a condition in environmental permits which is based on ‘offence to the senses’; this means that the odour is assessed by the level of offence it causes to the EA officer.
In order to demonstrate non-compliance, an EA officer must receive a report of odour, attend the location that the odour is reported, confirm it is coming from the site and demonstrate that the site is, or is not, doing something that has been specified in their Odour Management Plan or is contrary to Best Available Techniques. This condition has evolved over a number of years following prosecutions and case law derived from them. If non-compliance is confirmed, EA officers can take action in line with the Enforcement and Sanctions Policy.
Local authorities also have a role to play in managing issues considered to be a nuisance. If a waste management site is operating in a manner that is having an effect on local communities but is not contravening the conditions within the environmental permit, then the local authority has the power to act when determining if a statutory nuisance exists.
The determination of a statutory nuisance has two limbs: whether it is ‘prejudicial to health’ or a ‘nuisance’. To be a ‘nuisance’ the situation must unreasonably and substantially interfere with the personal comfort or amenity of those nearby. What is unacceptable is that which ordinary, decent people would consider unreasonable. If the local authority agrees that a statutory nuisance has happened or will happen in the future, then it must serve an abatement notice on the person, premises owner or occupier concerned.
The decision regarding whether or not an issue is a statutory nuisance is made by the local authority’s Environmental Health Practitioner on a case by case basis.
The EA provides an incident response function to deal with environmental incidents. It prioritises incidents by focusing on those that have a human health impact, followed by environmental and amenity impacts such as odour, dust or noise. The scale and impact of the incident is also factored into this process so a low impact incident from a health perspective which has attracted a lot of reports will be escalated and responded to. It is not possible for the EA to attend all the incidents it is notified of, so this process of prioritisation is used to attend higher risk incidents only.
The Government wants to minimise the volume of waste sent to landfill, including eliminating food waste to landfill by 2030. By reducing the volume of waste that we send to landfill, in particular biodegradable waste, we will reduce negative impacts from landfill.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
At 100,000 signatures...
At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament
Other parliamentary business
MPs debate odorous emissions from Walley’s Quarry and the work of the Environment Agency
On 19 May, Aaron Bell MP (Newcastle-under-Lyme) led an adjournment debate on odorous emissions from Walley’s Quarry, and the response of the Environment Agency.
In addition to the situation at Walley's Quarry, which we know many of those who signed this petition are based near to, MPs also debated the wider work and powers of the Environment Agency with regard to emissions more broadly.
What are adjournment debates?
Adjournment debates are half-hour debates which take place in the House of Commons Chamber at the end of each day's sitting. They are an opportunity for an individual backbench MP to raise an issue and receive a response from the relevant Minister.
An adjournment debate is held on the motion 'that the House (or sitting) do now adjourn'.
More information: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/adjournment/
Petitions Committee requests a revised response from the Government
The Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who oversee the petitions system) have considered the Government’s response to this petition. They felt that the response did not directly address the request of petition and have therefore written back to the Government to ask them to provide a revised response.
When the Committee have received a revised response from the Government, this will be published on the website and you will receive an email.