What lies beneath: The legalities of waste disposal in catering

Bars, restaurants, pubs and leisure venues serving food will no doubt be aware of their duty to dispose of food waste correctly and responsibly. This is nothing new, but the extent of the damage caused when people do not follow best practice has hit a peak in recent times. So much so, that there was recently a primetime TV show dedicated to the fatbergs that result from incorrect waste disposal, both by businesses and individuals. Channel 4’s Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers captured the interest of the general public and has ignited a heated debate over the issue. Lanes Group team partnered with Thames Water to extract the fatberg that was the star of the show, and the autopsy revealed it consisted of a huge amount of solidified fats, oil and grease (FOG), held together by a concoction of disposable wipes, sanitary products, nappies and other non-biodegradable items that do not belong down the drain.

There is no way of knowing exactly who is contributing to the growing number of fatbergs that lurk in UK sewers, but catering outlets undoubtedly have a role to play, due to the huge amount of FOG they dispose of on a daily basis. Removing FOG from your premises in the correct manner can ease the burden on the drainage network, but could also save you from incurring costly blockages, fines and potential even legal action if you are found to be contributing to the problem. So, what does the law say?

Water Industry Act 1991 – Section 111

It is a criminal offence to discharge any matter into the public sewers which prevents the free flow of wastewater, under section 111 of the law. Water companies that remove these blockages can try to recover costs from catering outlets if they can prove you were the root cause of the problem and prosecutions could even result in imprisonment.

Building Act 1984  – Section 59

Under this Act, your local authority is legally allowed to require satisfactory provision for the drainage of an existing building, so if it is not satisfied that you are doing things correctly, you may be requested to make changes. For example, they could demand that you install a grease trap to collect FOG before it enters the drainage system.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 – Statutory Nuisance

The local authority health department deals with statutory nuisance issues and these can include the accumulation of refuse, smells, effluents or premises that are considered prejudicial to health. In the first instance, they will issue an abatement notice, but if this is not complied with it can lead to prosecution.

Food Safety Act 1990

If catering outlets are found to be failing to comply with the Food Hygiene Regulations, under this Act local authorities are entitled to inspect and prosecute premises. They even have the power to prevent trading under an emergency prohibition order, if issues such as incorrect disposal of FOG are found to be harming the drainage system.

Animal By-Products Regulations EC 1774/2002 (ABPR)

Previously, catering outlets were allowed to dispose of used cooking oil by giving it to collectors who would turn it into animal feed, but this is no longer legal. Nor is sending it to landfill, so the regulations now state that waste must be collected by a licensed waste carrier and disposed of legally and responsibly.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 – Duty of Care – Section 34

Section 34 of the Act states that commercial premises must comply when managing and disposing of waste. This includes cooking oils, that can lead to FOG build-up in the sewers. Waste handlers must be appointed to do this in the correct way, and catering outlets must ensure their chosen handler is registered with the Environment Agency. If you do not produce documents to show you are doing this, you may be served with a £300 fixed penalty notice or prosecution.

Clearly, there are multiple legal ramifications of failing to dispose of FOG and food waste correctly, but caterers should also consider their moral duty to act in a responsible way. There are many measures that can be easily taken to minimise the impact on the UK drainage network, such as avoiding putting any food waste and products down the sink and disposing of FOG by wiping cookware and plates into the bin, rather than rinsing. For further reading on drain management in the catering industry, consult our free downloadable guide.

By Richard Leigh, group development director of drain cleaning and repair specialist Lanes Group

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