Northern Ireland environmental regulation during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

In response to the extraordinary challenges posed to businesses as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has issued a useful COVID-19 landing page which provides information on its regulatory response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and related questions, answers and information for business 

It makes it clear that it will not be relaxing environmental regulations during the pandemic and expects that “every reasonable effort is made to comply with environmental legislation and authorisations in place”. Unlike other environmental regulators in the UK, it has not issued any statements that it will be reducing its regulatory compliance inspections or compliance assessment measures.  

Temporary Regulatory Position Statements

The NIEA recognises that there may be disruption to businesses, and in particular waste management services, throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, and has produced temporary COVID-19 Regulatory Position Statements (RPSs) to help during this period. The RPSs have been produced with the expectation that businesses will ensure that any impacts on the environment are minimised 

The RPSs are documents which set out circumstances in which NIEA will not normally take enforcement action for a regulatory non-compliance in a specific situation so long as the conditions of the RPS are met. Each of the temporary RPSs sets out when they apply and the strict conditions which businesses must comply with if they are to be used. They do not exempt businesses from other regulatory and legal requirements 

Key RPSs for businesses

Temporary arrangements for movements of hazardous waste during COVID-19 pandemic 

This applies to anyone who produces, handles, carries or disposes of hazardous waste iNorthern IrelandIn normal circumstances, hazardous waste consignment notes (HWCNS) are available for purchase from the NIEA. 

Hazardous waste consignment notes: At this time paper consignment notes will not be sold, and businesses should print their own versions. A template for use is available upon request through email from [email protected] 

Hazardous waste consignment codes/numbers: The requirement to purchase a unique consignment note code/number for each consignment of hazardous waste remains. This should also be done through emailing [email protected] and requesting numbers rather than consignment notes 

Signing HWCNs: The RPS removes the requirement to sign the note if any party chooses not to in order to avoid the risk of contamination and maintain social distancingIf this is the case, then ‘COVID-19’ and the name of the receiver should be written on the note by the waste holder. 

Collection dates: In normal circumstances, hazardous waste must be collected within one month of notifying the NIEA. For the duration of this RPS you will be allowed to collect hazardous waste later than one month after notification. In this case you should write ‘COVID-19’ on the note along with the actual date of collection. 

A copy of all completed hazardous waste consignment notes must be sent electronically to the NIEA at [email protected] 

Covid-19 Regulatory Position Statement – The Producer Responsibility (Packaging Waste) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 and amendments 

This applies to NIEA direct registrant obligated packaging producers 

If you register directly with the NIEA you usually need to submit packaging waste data that is as accurate as reasonably possible, obtain sign-off from a company director or delegated authority, and pay the required registration fee(s) to the NIEA by 7th April each year. Failure to do so would normally result in the NIEA refusing your direct registration application, thus requiring that you join an approved Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) in order to comply and late data submission fees. 

If, however, you are unable to meet these requirements due to issues resulting from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, under this RPS you can: 

  • make a late application for direct registration with NIEA (and not be required to join a PCS); 
  • submit packaging data that is either as accurate as reasonably possible, or, if this is not an option for you currently, submit estimated data as part of your application; 
  • submit a director’s or delegated authority’s signature separately via email as part of your application; 
  • pay the required registration fee(s) as soon as possible following data submission; and 
  • if you submit estimated data as part of your application, you may either resubmit accurate data as soon as reasonably possible (in which case the £220 resubmission fee will be waived) or allow your estimated data to stand for the year.  

For this RPS to apply you must get written permission from the NIEA Producer Responsibility team. You can contact them by email at [email protected] or by phone on 028 9056 9338. 

 Both RPSs detailed apply until 30th June 2020 unless the NIEA extend them. It is advised to regularly check the NIEA waste regulations website for any changes to RPSs and their applicability.  

 As the situation with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold it is likely that we will see further changes to the way businesses operate and are regulated. Look out for future blog posts where The Compliance People will keep you up to date with what is happening, and what this means for you and your business.