LGA Response to Defra’s consultation on potential amendments to the Persistent Organic Pollutants POPs regulation

The LGA welcomes the opportunity to comment on amendments to the regulation of POPs and the impact this could have on services that are highly valued by residents.

View allWaste articles


About the Local Government Association (LGA)

(a)       The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.

(b)       Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

(c)       This response is not confidential.

Key messages

The LGA welcomes the opportunity to comment on amendments to the regulation of POPs and the impact this could have on services that are highly valued by residents. LGA polling shows that 81 per cent of residents are fairly or very happy with their waste collection services.

Defra’s consultation paper sets out a conveyor belt of additions and restrictions to the list of chemicals classed as POPs. Everyday items such as carpets, non-stick pans, paints and textiles will come into the scope of the POPs regulations, and this will have significant consequences for councils in their capacity as collection and disposal authorities for household waste.

  • Given the growing number of chemicals registered as POPs and the scale of the challenge in finding safe disposal routes, Defra and the Environment Agency must involve the LGA at an early stage and work with local government on a structured implementation plan based on a realistic view of costs and capacity. The LGA is calling for a new relationship with Defra and the Environment Agency on the management of POPs in household waste. This could take the form of a jointly developed long term strategy for managing POPs in household waste.
  • Linked to the point above, the amendments to the POPs regulations will have cost implications for councils. Sending material containing POPs to specialised disposal routes (such as high temperature incineration, hazardous waste landfill sites, storage in safe locations underground) will cost more than standard disposal routes for household wastes. Councils need clarity on how these costs will be met. Any addition or change to the list of POPs should be treated as an additional burden on councils and properly funded. 
  • Councils will be concerned for the health of their residents and the threat to the wider environment from incorrect disposal of material containing POPs. Communicating with the public on the risks from POPs in household items and educating them on their part in ensuring safe disposal of POPs material must be part of the national strategy for implementation.

Answers to the consultation questions

The LGA has only answered the most relevant questions in the consultation.

Response to questions on revised waste limits

Perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA)

PFOA compounds are used in non-stick kitchen items and as a treatment for textiles, and paper and paints. These items are widely used by households and are very likely to be disposed of through household waste collection and disposal systems. PFOA compounds are also used in firefighting foams.

Question 9: Yes, the proposal (to introduce a limit) is of importance to local government.

Question 10: How would it impact your sector? See above. Also:

  • Stocks of firefghting foam containing PFOA would need to be destroyed. The consultation paper proposes that the specified limit would avoid the need for stock to be tested, but there would still be a cost for safe destruction through incineration at a very high temperature
  • It is not clear whether non-stick kitchen items would need separate treatment in the waste stream. Further information would be helpful to understand the implication for waste collection and disposal authorities, and the possibility of additional costs.

The paper indicates that “…. the recycling of textile waste should not be disrupted” by the proposed limit. We would like reassurance on this point. If some or all textiles may have to be treated as a POPs material and sent to a hazardous waste incinerator or other safe disposal route this could have cost implications for councils, and may required a change in the way services are provided to residents.

Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS)

PFHxS has been used in fire-fighting foams and in everyday household items (textiles, leather, upholstery, cleaning agents and potentially in paper and packaging).

Question 19: Yes, the proposal (to introduce a limit) is of importance to local government.

Question 20: How would it impact your sector?

  • This is not entirely clear because of the broad scope of materials, and the extent to which they are present in household items. Councils will need more information on how they would be expected to detect the presence of these chemicals in everyday household items and deal with them safely.  
  • The fire service would be directly impacted by a limit in aqueous film forming foams.

PFHxS chemicals are a high risk to the local environment (in water and soil) and, therefore, it is important that they are limited. There can be and are questions of liability if a local authority is responsible for any water provision and testing; councils are also responsible for ensuring public health if there is reason for an investigation into water quality together with the water company responsible for ensuring the dilution of any chemicals in the areas. This could also affect planning conditions for new developments that are built on brownfield land.

Short chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs)

These substances are used as a plasticizer and flame retardant in rubber, paints, adhesives and plastics. The threshold would be applied to the whole item, not just the part contaminated with the pollutant.

Questions 30 and 31: We do not know if the proposal (to introduce a limit) is of importance to local government. It is not clear whether household items or bulky waste such as furniture would be in scope. This needs further investigation and discussion with local government.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)

These substances are used as flame retardants and found in textiles, plastics, housings of computer and TVs, wires and cables, pipes and carpets.

Questions 39 and 40: We do not know if the proposal (to introduce a limit) is of importance to local government because of the broad scope of items that could contain PBDE. We would expect any additional costs arising from the treatment of electrical items containing POPs to be covered by the producer responsibility scheme (the WEEE scheme). This needs further investigation and discussion with local government.

Any other comments or evidence to share?

(Question 120)

We are keen to explore the introduction of a producer responsibility scheme for producers and retailers of items such as furniture and textiles. While this will not help with the immediate challenges of dealing with POPs regulations on the disposal of fabric covered soft furnishings, we must ensure that the “polluter pays” principle is followed through into the process of waste disposal.

It would be helpful to consider the combined impact of the proposals. For example textiles could contain more than one of the POPs listed in this consultation. This needs to be explored in more detail.

The consultation highlights the risks of using complex and potentially harmful chemicals in domestic products. In the long term, regulation must look at the assumption that chemicals are necessary in the manufacture of products, and producers should be supported to use natural materials where these could be used as effectively to create safe, sustainable products.

We must learn from the recent experience in local government of handling POPs in soft furnishings. The LGA has written to Defra and the Environment Agency setting out the challenges of separating soft furnishings from other types of cost, and the additional costs arising from the cost of separation and incineration. Timetables for implementation must be based on real world challenges and open and transparent discussions between Defra, the Environment Agency, local government and the waste industry.

Taking the current situation with POPs in fabric covered soft furnishings as an example, the Environment Agency require councils to treat all soft furnishings as containing POPs and separate them from other types of waste, for example from the point of drop off at a household waste and recycling centre. Councils can apply to the Environment Agency for an exemption that allows mixing of POPs and non-POPs material, but this is on a temporary basis and only applies if councils meet the criteria set by the Environment Agency. If the same rules on separation are applied to textiles, carpets, paint, kitchen items and packaging councils would end up managing several streams of waste identified as harmful to human health and the environment. Council operations are not designed to cope with this level of complexity, and household waste and recycling facilities for example could need significant upgrades.

It is unclear how other organisations that collect, recycle and dispose of the broad range of household items listed in the consultation paper will behave. Commercial contractors and the community and voluntary sector may struggle to find suitable disposable routes and so it may be left to councils as the service of ‘last resort’ to dispose of householders’ POPs material, adding challenge and costs to services.


Response to Defra submitted by Hilary Tanner ([email protected]) on behalf of the Local Government Association.