Environmental rules - United Kingdom
Businesses have a legal responsibility for the impact they have on the environment.
Key environmental legislation is available per region (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) and per subject area (air, chemicals, waste, etc.) on the following web pages:
Land legislation in the UK covers:
- nature conservation
- pollution from agricultural operations
- contaminated land (including radioactive contamination)
- liability for environmental damage
The Planning Portal is the UK Government's online planning and building regulations resource for England and Wales.
Waste responsibilities include storing waste safely and securely and having it collected by an approved organisation.
UK chemicals legislation covers using, storing, transporting, packaging, labelling and disposing of chemicals and other substances that could harm the environment. It also covers the qualifications required to use certain chemicals and measures to control major accident hazards involving dangerous substances.
It is an offence to discharge anything into surface waters or groundwater without Environment Agency consent. Groundwater regulations control the disposal of harmful substances into groundwater, including pesticides, herbicides and solvents.
Climate and air
Businesses have legal duties regarding air pollution and providing a safe working environment. These can be found in Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The main legal duties apply where noise exposure in a business is likely to equal or exceed certain action values - notably 80 decibels and 85 decibels averaged over a working day or week - although there are also values relating to the maximum, or 'peak', noise to which employees are exposed. However, the main focus is on control through good practice rather than measurement.
If you handle nuclear energy or dual-use products, you will have to comply with strict regulations.
Products that have a civil and military application are defined as 'dual-use'. The Community General Export Authorisation governs some of these products to certain countries.
Further information on the trade in dual-use goods can be found on the Business Link website.
The UK's Health and Safety Executive regulates the nuclear industry through its Nuclear Directorate (ND). It is responsible for the UK safety regulation of:
- nuclear power stations
- nuclear chemical plants
- decommissioning defence nuclear facilities
- nuclear safety research and strategy
- Civil nuclear operational security and safeguards:
The Environment Agency (England and Wales), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency oversee and monitor environmental responsibility and legislation.
Local authorities are also responsible for monitoring a number of environmental issues, including air quality, air pollution, noise, odour and light pollution, land contamination and environmental health.
Responsibility for inspections is shared between local authorities and national authorities. Local authorities also have a number of environmental responsibilities and powers, including monitoring and managing local air quality, dealing with nuisance complaints about excessive noise, vibration, dust and odour, the regulation of some businesses under pollution control regimes, and environmental health issues such as pest control.
Businesses are free to go beyond the minimum environmental legal requirements at their own initiative.
Permits and licences
Certain business activities require special authorisations, including licences, permits and consent. These normally need to be obtained from the Environment Agency, but local authorities and water companies are responsible for some authorisations.
The Planning Portal is the one-stop shop for planning and building services online. You can use it to:
- learn about planning and building regulations
- apply for planning permission
- find out about development near you
- appeal against a decision
- research government policy
Businesses must complete a waste transfer or consignment note when waste is handed over.
In terms of waste packaging responsibilities, if a business's turnover is more than £2 million and it handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year, it must register with the environmental regulator or join an approved compliance scheme.
Hazardous waste must be correctly classified and described. It must also be disposed of at, or recovered from, an officially licensed facility.
In an effort to prevent water pollution, environmental permits control discharges into surface waters and groundwater. Abstraction licences are required from the Environment Agency when using large quantities of water from surface waters or groundwater.
The Business Link website provides guidance and online tools to help businesses comply with all relevant legislation and to run environmentally responsible companies.
It also provides comprehensive guidance on all the licences or permits a business might need and includes an online tool to help work out which licences and permits are required.
The UK's Environment Agency also provides guidance and tools, including information about relevant legislation and "better regulation" principles.
NetRegs provides free environmental guidance for small and medium-sized businesses in the UK. It may even help you to save money by showing you ways to use your resources more efficiently.
It also shows key environmental legislation per region (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) and per subject area (air, chemicals, waste, etc.).
Check also the legislation on this topic in: