Trade effluent environmental legislation

This post is designed to help you find out more about trade effluent, what it is and the environmental legislation and regulations surrounding it. Most, but not all manufacturing businesses need to have a trade effluent license, so it is important to understand what you can and can’t do before discharging any trade effluent into the local sewer network.

There are penalties for breaching trade effluent legislation including large fines or prosecution. The information below gives a brief overview and a few key pointers as to what you need to know and do in order to ensure that your business remains compliant.

What is trade effluent?

Trade effluent is defined by the Water Industry Act 1991 as “any liquid, either with or without particles of matter in suspension in the liquid, which is wholly or partly produced in the course of any trade or industry carried on at a trade premises.”

This means that if it does not emanate from a toilet, kitchen, hand wash waste or a bath, (collectively known as ‘domestic waste’) or uncontaminated roof drainage or surface water, (generally known as ‘rainwater’)it is classified as trade effluent.

If any commercial or business premises is producing waste water, it must be treated safely and responsibly. This also includes any waste water that is derived from washing down, cooling activities or any production process.

Trade effluent is a potential source of damage to sewage treatment processes, sewers and water courses that it is discharged to. It can also have an adverse effect on the health and safety of anyone who works around or in the sewerage network. Consequently, the water companies work hard to ensure that the treatment infrastructure and water treatment processes work efficiently, in order to ensure that all treated waste water and trade effluent is chemically balanced and returned to the environment safely.

Some businesses that dispose of waste water, for example, pubs, restaurants, hotels, takeaways and caravan parks are not classified as discharging trade effluent. Instead, they are regulated under Section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991. However, if these premises are found to be causing blockages or compromising the safe operation of the sewer network then they too can be prosecuted.

Do I need consent for business trade effluent?

Trade effluent legislation clearly states that if you are planning to discharge anything other than domestic waste into a drain that is connected to a public sewer, you have a responsibility to obtain consent from your water company prior to commencement. Under Section 118 (5) of the Water Industry Act, it is a criminal offence to discharge any trade effluent to sewer without the consent of the ‘sewerage undertaker’ (water company). The penalty for not complying with these regulations is possible legal action and a large fine.

If your business manufactures or processes materials or products such as food and drink, metal finishing or chemicals, or if you operate a small car wash or launderette, it is very likely that you will need trade effluent consent from your water authority.

Additionally, short-term discharges, which might include, for example, the flushing of central heating/cooling systems, or disposal of contaminated groundwater from land remediation or other building or construction projects, will also be subject to temporary trade effluent authorisation. If you are in any doubt as to your responsibilities in regard to disposal of trade effluent, you must contact your water authority for advice.

Do I need a discharge license?

If you discharge wastewater in the form of trade effluent, then yes, you need to obtain a discharge license. This applies regardless of the amount you discharge. Whether it’s 2 litres or 2,000 litres of wastewater each day, there is a form that must be completed giving detailed information about the wastewater disposal activities of your business.

The application is normally based on the volume and content of discharge and must be made to your respective water authority and the environmental agency.

What does a licence contain?

Your consent to discharge license contains a number of key elements that control how you discharge of your trade effluent and what it comprises. These include:

  • Nature of discharge: A statement informing you of what the license allows you to do.
  • Sewer affected: The water authority will always stipulate where the trade effluent must be discharged.
  • Maximum volume of discharge: This advises the maximum amount of trade effluent you will be permitted to discharge in a 24 hour period.
  • Maximum rate of discharge: This informs you the maximum rate at which your approved volume of waste water can be discharged.
  • Other details: These will include the highest permitted temperature and the pH value that must be adhered to.

If you already have a waste water license for your business then have a good look at it and find out exactly what you are permitted to discharge. If you don’t have one, then you can download an example as a PDF here.

Trade Effluent Consent

What happens when I receive my trade effluent license?

It will include a variety of limits and conditions to discharge that are all legally binding. This means that if you fail to comply with even one single condition, then you could be fined or even prosecuted. Every license is unique and contains the specific requirements for your business. Even if you are working within the same industry, making identical products to a competitor just a few miles away, the licences will be different.

What if there is an on-site spillage?

If someone causes an on-site spillage, then that business must take prompt action to prevent or minimise any discharge to their site drains and the local sewer network. If possible, any material spilled should be prevented from entering the drains. However, if some wastewater does infiltrate the site drainage system, the local water authority must be alerted immediately. The authority must then be advised of the nature of the spillage, the substances involved, the location of the spillage and likely volume or quantities involved.

It is good practice for business owners to make site drainage plans and safety datasheets available to employees at all times. It is also essential that incident procedure plans are in place, spill kits are available on site and that all appropriate employees are trained in and are familiar with them.

Want to find out more?

If you want to find out more about how to obtain a license to dispose of trade effluent, then you must contact your water authority.

If you want to find out how to measure the amount of wastewater you are discharging over a given period, then there are various ways that the team here at Detectronic can help you to accurately do this. By doing so, you will be able to negotiate your trade effluent payments based on fact, not solely what the water authority decides that you should pay. Give us a call or email us to arrange a site visit or a telephone consultation.


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