Environmental permits and licences for businesses

Business activities that may cause pollution or that pose another risk to the environment are regulated. You must ensure that you have appropriate authorisation for the activities your business carries out.

Guide

10 min read

1. Overview

Environmental authorisations for businesses are issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) or, in some cases, your water and sewerage company.

This guide outlines the main environmental authorisations including pollution prevention and control permits, waste management licences, water discharge authorisations and special waste notification.

2. Types of environmental licences and permits

You may require authorisation, in the form of permits, licences, consents, registrations, notifications or exemptions, in order to carry out certain types of business activity. You must comply with the conditions that are part of the authorisation. These aim to control the impact of your activities on the environment.

In most cases, you'll need to apply to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which is the main environmental regulator in Scotland. Water companies are in charge of some types of authorisation.

You will need authorisation if you:

  • carry out certain listed activities at an installation or mobile plant, such as industrial activities, or carry out waste disposal or recovery activities, such as metals recycling or waste transfer stations
  • discharge anything other than clean water into surface waters or groundwater
  • discharge trade effluent into the public foul sewer
  • take water from surface waters or groundwater, or obstruct them in any way
  • transport waste, or arrange for someone else to do so
  • produce or move special waste
  • keep, use or dispose of radioactive substances
  • produce greenhouse gas emissions that are covered by the European Union emissions trading system or the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme

3. Pollution prevention and control permits and waste management licences

Pollution prevention and control (PPC) permits and waste management licences regulate business activities that could have an impact on the environment or human health.

PPC permits

You may require a PPC permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) because of the type and size of the activities your business carries out. For example, you may need a PPC permit if your business carries out:

  • energy activities, such as combustion and refining
  • metals production and processing
  • mineral activities, such as production of cement, lime, glass and ceramics
  • production of chemicals, including fertilisers and pharmaceuticals
  • waste activities, such as operating a landfill site or incinerator
  • activities involving the use of solvents, such as coating, printing and dry cleaning

You must comply with the conditions of your permit or you could be fined or even sent to prison.

Waste management licences and exemptions

You may need a waste management licence from SEPA, for example, if you:

  • store other people's waste
  • treat waste, carry out recycling or use waste mobile plants

You are unlikely to need a licence if you only store waste that you produce and an authorised waste carrier removes it from your site regularly. However, you must check that anyone who handles your waste has the correct permit, licence or exemption.

Your activity may qualify for an exemption from waste management licensing. Whether you need a licence or to register an exemption will depend on:

  • how long you store waste
  • the types and quantities of wastes that you handle
  • the activities carried out on your site

If your activity is exempt, you may still need to register it with SEPA. You will still need to comply with controls to prevent pollution and harm to human health.

4. Discharge authorisations and water use licences

There are strict controls on discharging substances and materials to land, surface waters or groundwater.

Surface waters include rivers, lochs, streams, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater is all water located below the water table.

Discharging to water

If you discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water to surface waters or groundwater you must have either:

  • an authorisation under the Controlled Activity Regulations (CAR)
  • an integrated pollution control authorisation or pollution prevention and control permit

These authorisations and permits are issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

CAR has three levels of authorisation:

  • general binding rules
  • registration
  • water use licences

You must comply with the conditions of your authorisation or permit.

Discharging to land

You must obtain an authorisation from SEPA for all discharges of trade effluent (liquid waste) and treated sewage into land.

Prevent pollution

You must ensure there's no risk of contaminated run-off from your premises polluting surface waters or groundwater. For example, your vehicles may leak oil, or rainwater may be contaminated by chimney emissions.

You can be prosecuted for allowing any polluting matter to enter surface waters or groundwater.

5. Trade effluent consents and agreements

You must get a trade effluent consent or enter into a trade effluent agreement with your water and sewerage company before you discharge trade effluent into a public foul sewer. It's important you do this to avoid causing serious damage to the sewage system and creating a risk of danger to public health.

Trade effluent is any liquid waste resulting from non-domestic or industrial activity. It includes:

  • wastewater contaminated with oils, chemicals and solvents
  • liquid process wastes
  • detergents
  • condensate water from compressed air installation
  • cooling and wash water
  • biodegradable liquids
  • contaminated mine or quarry water

If your effluent is hazardous, you must dispose of it as special waste.

You must have a trade effluent consent or agreement if you:

  • discharge trade effluent into a public foul sewer
  • discharge any surface water run-off from oil-contaminated hard surfaces or wash substances such as oils, chemicals, food, inks or powders into a public foul sewer
  • use a sink, basin, toilet or gully for disposing of any liquid wastes or discharge wash waters into a public foul sewer, apart from domestic sewage

If you're already discharging trade effluent to the public foul sewer without permission, you should stop immediately and contact your water and sewerage company.

You must arrange for a new trade effluent consent or agreement if:

  • the volume or composition of your discharge changes
  • you are no longer able to comply with the conditions of your consent or agreement
  • you stop the discharge for two years or more and then want to start it again

You may also need prior authorisation from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) for effluents containing dangerous substances, or if you have a pollution prevention and control permit. You should check with SEPA or your water and sewerage company if you are unsure whether you need authorisation.

6. Water abstraction and impoundment authorisations

If you take or store surface water or groundwater from any source, you are abstracting or impounding water.

If you abstract or impound water, you may need authorisation from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). This applies even if you move water temporarily and return it to the source.

Surface water and groundwater sources include:

  • rivers
  • streams
  • lochs
  • reservoirs
  • estuaries
  • coastal waters
  • wells
  • springs
  • boreholes

If you take water from the mains supply you don't need authorisation.

Check your level of authorisation for abstractions

If you abstract less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day from surface waters or groundwater, you must comply with general binding rules (GBRs), and you will not need to contact SEPA.

If you abstract more than 10m³ of water a day, you must register with SEPA. If you abstract more than 50m³ of water a day, you must have an abstraction licence from SEPA.

SEPA's practical guide gives you more information about GBRs and guidance on the level of authorisation that you will need for your activity.

Check if you need an impoundment licence

You may need a licence from SEPA to carry out an existing impoundment activity, or to build any new impoundment structures, for example weirs or dams. You may also need an engineering authorisation under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR).

Applying for registrations and licences

To get an abstraction or impoundment registration or licence you should contact SEPA for an application form and to discuss your requirements.

You should also notify SEPA as early as possible if you're taking over an existing licence. The licence will remain the responsibility of the current licence holder until it is transferred.

7. Waste carrier, broker and dealer registration

Waste carriers transport controlled waste as part of their business. Waste brokers arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. Waste dealers use an agent to buy waste from other businesses to sell it on.

Controlled waste includes commercial, industrial and household waste, as well as special waste.

You must register as a waste carrier, broker or dealer with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) if you plan to transport other businesses' controlled waste, or arrange for other businesses' controlled waste to be handled, transported, disposed of or recovered. You must also register if you want to transport your own building or demolition waste.

You must register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, rather than a waste carrier, if you only transport:

  • animal by-products
  • waste from mines and quarries
  • waste from agricultural premises

You must register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, if you carry waste and are a:

  • waste collection, disposal or regulation authority
  • charity or voluntary organisation
  • business that regularly transports its own waste (unless it is construction and demolition waste)

It is free to register as a professional collector and transporter of waste, and your registration lasts indefinitely unless it is revoked or withdrawn. You can download an application form to register as a professional collector and transporter of waste from the SEPA website.

8. Special waste notification

Waste is defined as hazardous if it is classified as hazardous in the European Waste Catalogue (or List of Wastes). Generally, waste is described as hazardous if it, or the materials or substances it contains, are harmful to human health or the environment. In Scotland, hazardous waste is called special waste.

If you produce special waste you must make sure that you store, transport, treat and dispose of it correctly in compliance with the law.

Pre-notify SEPA

You must pre-notify the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) before a single movement of special waste, or the first in a series of special waste movements, leaves your site. You do this by filling in parts A and B of a consignment note. The pre-notification sheet must be delivered to SEPA at least 72 hours and not more than one month before special waste is moved withinScotland, or imported intoScotlandfromEnglandorWales.

Use consignment notes when moving special waste

When you move special waste from your premises it must be accompanied by a consignment note. This includes moving it to any other site that you may operate. The waste must be accompanied by a consignment note until it reaches its final destination. You must keep a copy of all consignment notes for three years. There are only a very few exceptions where consignment notes are not needed.

You can find out more about waste storage and transportation on the NetRegs website.

9. Radioactive substances certificates

You must have a certificate of registration from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) if you keep or use radioactive materials. You must register:

  • open or unsealed sources on your premises
  • closed or sealed sources on your premises
  • mobile apparatus incorporating a sealed radioactive source
  • mobile apparatus (open sources) for use in environmental studies
  • radioactive packages stored in transit

You must have a certificate of authorisation from SEPA if you are accumulating (storing) radioactive waste on your premises or disposing of radioactive waste from your premises, unless an exemption order applies. Disposal of radioactive waste includes disposal of radioactive gases, vapours, liquids and solids to the air, land, sea, surface waters (such as rivers and lochs) and sewers. You are also disposing of radioactive waste if you transfer it to other premises.

You must not keep or use radioactive materials, or dispose of or accumulate radioactive waste, before you receive your certificate of registration or authorisation. You must comply with the conditions it contains.

If you are unsure whether you need a certificate of registration or authorisation for radioactive substances activities, you should contact SEPA on Tel 01786 457 700.

Exemptions from certificates of registration or authorisation

You won't need a certificate of registration or authorisation if an exemption order applies to your activities.

Read our guide Getting advice on environmental issues.

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