The Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes provision for the improved control of pollution to the air, water and land by regulating the management of waste and the control of emissions. Key provisions of the Act impose a duty of care on any business or person who produces, carries, keeps, treats, disposes of or imports controlled waste to do so safely. The Act also contains provisions addressing statutory nuisances, litter and the control of genetically modified organisms and certain other substances.

Since the Act was passed, several provisions have been replaced or repealed by subsequent environmental legislation, which should therefore be considered in conjunction with the Act. The Act applies in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the main provisions of the Act are contained in the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, although there is additional legislation which also needs to be considered.

What does the Act cover?

The Act originally had nine parts, but Part I (pollution control), Part IIA (contaminated land), Part V (radioactive substances) and Part VII (nature conservation) have been replaced by later legislation.

Of the remaining parts of the Act, Part II (waste on land) and Part III (statutory nuisances and clean air) are the most likely to be relevant to small firms, but business owners should familiarise themselves with all parts of the Act to ensure that they are aware of their responsibilities and obligations:

  • Part II: Waste on land. This section introduces various offences in relation to controlled waste, and imposes a duty of care on any business or person who produces, carries, keeps, treats, disposes of or imports controlled waste.

  • Part III: Statutory Nuisances and Clean Air. This section defines statutory nuisances and sets out procedures for dealing with them.

  • Part IV: Litter. This section amends litter laws and gives local authorities powers to keep public highways clear.

  • Part VI: Genetically Modified Substances. This section places controls on the release of genetically modified substances.

  • Part VIII: Miscellaneous. This section places controls on certain dangerous substances and other miscellaneous dangers. It covers pollution at sea, control of dogs, and straw and stubble burning. It gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations prohibiting or restricting the import, use, supply or storage of dangerous substances. It also empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring manufacturers, importers or suppliers to provide information about dangerous substances for the purpose of assessing their potential for causing pollution of the environment or harm to human health.

  • Part IX: General. This section empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations giving effect to European legislation and other international obligations.

Who does the Act apply to?

The Act applies to every business and individual in England, Scotland and Wales. It is of particular relevance for organisations involved in producing, importing, carrying, keeping, treating or disposing of controlled waste and where an organisation's activities could be regarded by another party as causing a statutory nuisance.

Who enforces the Act and what are the penalties for non-compliance?

Regulation is the responsibility of the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales in Wales and SEPA in Scotland. Enforcement is carried out by the environmental protection departments of local authorities.

Business owners should ensure that all workers are aware of the rules regarding environmental protection and the need to avoid creating a nuisance. This should be incorporated into staff induction training.

Penalties vary according to the part of the Act that has been breached and the severity of the breach. For example, unauthorised treatment, storage or disposal of controlled waste, or failure to maintain a duty of care, is a criminal offence for which a business owner or individual could be liable for an unlimited fine and imprisonment, in addition to reparation costs. Organisations, business owners or individuals that cause a statutory nuisance can be served with an abatement order that can prevent or restrict business activities and require the business owner to take steps to reduce or remove the nuisance. Failure to comply with an abatement notice is a criminal offence and penalties can include a fine of up to £5,000, with a further fine of up to £500 for every day the nuisance continues.

Further information

Download our full factsheet, which explains what the Act covers, who it applies to, what obligations it imposes on business owners and how those obligations can be met. It also provides hints and tips and sources of further information.