Councils halt collection of soft furnishings following new EA rules

Six councils across Cambridgeshire and in Cumbria have stopped collections of waste soft furnishings following Environment Agency (EA) rules that state from 1 January, sofas, cushions and chairs must be incinerated.

The new rules come into force to dispose of harmful persistent organic pollutants (POPs), organic chemical substances with toxic properties.

Cambridge City Council, Huntingdonshire, Fenland, South Cambridgeshire district councils and East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC) have all ceased collections and drop-offs of soft furnishings at their waste recycling plants.

Cambridgeshire County Council does not have an incinerator facility and said it was looking for temporary solutions, while ECDC said it was waiting on a confirmed list of incinerators able to receive POPs.

“We are urgently working with Cambridgeshire County Council and our partners to resolve this,” ECDC said.

Conservative leader of ECDC, Anna Bailey, told BBC News this could lead to an increase in fly-tipping which councils have a responsibility to remove from public land.

“But where do we send these items to when we do pick them up?” Ms Bailey commented.

This is frustrating and unwelcome news, and we are working hard to find a longer-term solution as quickly as possible

In a statement, the county council said: “because Cambridgeshire’s waste disposal methods rely on the use of landfill, it has been extremely challenging to secure compliant disposal routes. This work is now urgently taking place.”

Ms Bailey added: “We ask that they [residents] take advantage of re-use schemes or trade-in initiatives used by retailers or hold onto such items until we can provide an update.”

Cumbria County Council also announced its Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) will temporarily be unable to accept upholstered seating items.

It said in a statement that it anticipated that arrangements will be in place to allow HWRCs to resume accepting this waste towards the end of January 2023.

Cumbria’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Councillor Celia Tibble, said: “This rapid implementation was unexpected and contrary to indications previously given by Defra and the Environment Agency to local authorities.

“There is insufficient time to make the necessary changes to how this type of waste is handled at our Household Waste Recycling Centres…”

“This is frustrating and unwelcome news, and we are working hard to find a longer-term solution as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Isle of Wight waste recycling centres reassured householders they will continue to accept soft furnishings.

The council said they will continue to collect soft furnishings as part of its bulky waste collection service and reusable soft furnishings for free as part of its reuse service.

Natasha Dix, the council’s strategic manager for environment, said: “We want to reassure residents that all households and all commercial businesses can continue to bring their own waste, including soft furnishings, to one of our recycling centres.”

What are persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

POPs are present in upholstered soft furnishings as well as some plastic and electronic items.

From seating textiles and foams to washing machines and e-cigarettes, POPs can be found in many of today’s ‘everyday items’, and it’s an issue that the Government, local authorities, and waste operators across the country are having to deal with.

POPs – also sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’ – are organic chemical substances with toxic properties, and they can be found in many waste streams, including some electronic waste.

Due to these substances’ specific physical and chemical properties, POPs can have a long-lasting impact on environmental and human health if not managed correctly during the waste disposal process.

Legislation relating to POPs, brought in in 2007, had not previously been enforced by the EA until now.

“Persistent organic pollutants are harmful to human health and the environment, so it is important that waste containing these chemicals is taken to authorised facilities for destruction,” the EA said.

“Defra and the EA have been engaging with local authorities since 2021 to explain the law around these chemicals and offer guidance where necessary.”

The EA instructs that upholstered domestic seating and any mixed, residual, (or bulky) household waste with which it has been mixed with, should be sent for destruction to a municipal waste incinerator, hazardous waste incinerator, or cement kiln.

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