What is Duty of Care?

The waste Duty of Care is a code of practice issued by Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the Welsh Government. It applies to any organisation that handles waste within England and Wales, there are separate rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Any business registered outside of England and Wales but operating within its borders comes under the regulations. The purpose of Duty of Care is to prevent harm to the environment from the mis-management of controlled waste.

You must take all reasonable steps to:

  1. prevent unauthorised or harmful deposit, treatment or disposal of waste.
  2. prevent a breach (failure) by any other person to meet the requirement to have an environmental permit, or a breach of a permit condition.
  3. prevent the escape of waste from your control.
  4. ensure that any person you transfer the waste to has the correct authorisation.
  5. provide an accurate description of the waste when it is transferred to another person.

Who Does It Apply To?

Anyone who imports, produces, carries, keeps, treats, disposes of or controls waste (such as a waste broker or similar) must comply with the regulations, or face prosecution. These people or organisations are called ‘waste holders’.

The penalties for non-compliance are severe – ranging from fixed-penalty fines to unlimited fines in court. It’s not difficult to comply and this course will help you to do so.

What’s a Waste Holder?

Waste holders fall into 5 categories, plus householders as a separate entity, under different rules. Which category are you?

Waste Holder TypeExample
ProducerThe person whose activities produce waste – manufacturers, shops, offices, restaurants etc
CarrierThe person who collects and transports waste either belonging to them as part of their trade, or for others as a commercial enterprise or otherwise.
DealerThe person, business or organisation that buys and sells waste.
BrokerThe person, business or organisation that arranges the collection, transportation and management of waste on behalf of someone else.
ManagerThe person involved with the collection, transport, treatment, disposal of waste.
Categories of waste holders

You may fall under more than one category; that’s OK as long as you recognise that the activities you are doing are controlled under the regulations.

Does Duty of Care Apply to Me?

Duty of care applies to controlled waste, that is waste of household, industrial or commercial origin. For it to be defined as waste, the holder of the object or substance must have discarded, or intended to discard of it. This includes sending the waste for recovery, recycling, reuse, treatment or disposal.

There are a few wastes that are not controlled and are managed under different regulations. These include:

  • Waste containing animal by-products.
  • Certain sewage or similar types of sludge.
  • Wastes covered under Article 2 of the Waste Framework Directive. These include radioactive wastes, de-commissioned explosives, uncontaminated soil from excavations that are being returned back to the land in the same format on the same site, waste water etc.
  • Waste that has come from extraction, quarries, mining etc.

If your waste doesn’t fall into the categories listed above, then the Duty of Care regulations apply to its management. You are responsible for compliance with the regulations from start to finish and must be able to prove this compliance if asked.

How Can You Comply?

Let’s look at all the reasonable steps we must take in order to comply with the regulations.

  1. Prevent unauthorised or harmful deposit, treatment or disposal of waste.
man, televisions, junkyard
This would be a harmful deposit of waste.

To comply with the regulations, the deposit of waste must be authorised and harmless and this must be proved. At every step of the process, from the waste being collected to the end disposal point, Duty of Care applies and you must be able to show that it’s being managed correctly. We do this by way of a Waste Transfer Note, which we will cover in a later topic.

Unauthorised disposal could be fly-tipping, using an unlicensed waste site or deliberately describing your waste incorrectly. Waste management facilities are permitted by law, or exempted from permits under strict conditions. Your waste must only go to a site that holds the correct permit for it.

2. Prevent a breach (failure) by any other person to meet the requirement to have an environmental permit, or a breach of a permit condition.

Step 2 puts the onus on you, the waste holder, to ensure that the facility you’re sending your waste to is permitted and operating within the terms of its permit.

To comply, you must know firstly where your waste is going, secondly that the facility is authorised to accept it and thirdly that your waste is of a type to be accepted there. You have to do your homework on this one and do, at the very least, a desktop audit of the facility. If you operate a waste management facility, familiarity with the waste types allowed under your permit is crucial. Without that knowledge you may be accepting unsuitable wastes and this can cause serious compliance issues.

3. Prevent the escape of waste from your control.

The best way of preventing waste from escaping into the environment is for it to be contained and stored properly. Using the correct bins, secure storage areas and appropriate vehicles to transport will fulfil this requirement. A waste producer should have a suitable area for waste to be stored prior to collection and the vehicle used to collect it should be covered. You can’t put loose waste into the back of an open truck for obvious reasons!

A waste management facility should have segregated areas for different waste types, as well as litter netting around the perimeter of the site. This ensures waste can’t escape and cause harm to the surrounding environment.

4. Ensure that any person you transfer the waste to has the correct authorisation.

Whenever your waste moves, it must be managed by an authorised person, or organisation. It’s up to you to check they hold a valid waste carriers’ licence (check on the Environment Agency website), and that the facility it goes to holds an environmental permit or exemption.

5. Provide an accurate description of the waste when it is transferred to another person.

You must be able to classify your waste (accurately describe it) in order to ensure it’s being managed correctly. The regulations require that you have a written description of the waste and this information will be relied upon by every person in the chain of Duty of Care from waste producer to final disposal. Different wastes need to be handled in different ways and precautions taken. Waste classification is covered in the next topic.


As soon as your ‘stuff’ becomes a controlled waste, it is subject to the Duty of Care regulations. These regulations put the onus on you to check that your waste is what you say it is, that it is only taken away by someone holding a licence to do so, and is then treated or disposed of at a permitted facility. No environmental harm must come about from your waste movements, otherwise you could be prosecuted. You comply with the regulations by completing waste transfer notes containing all the information on the waste and its movements. The next lessons and topics will cover all the information you need to classify your waste and complete a waste transfer note.