Big or small, your business has an impact on the environment. From noise to chemicals, there are regulations and responsibilities for every kind of waste. If you don’t know what they are, and your business is not up to code, there are serious consequences involved. As a business owner, you are responsible for the people who work for you as well as the environmental impact of your business. You also want to do your best to reduce your footprint. That can feel pretty overwhelming, especially with all the information floating around. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this blog, we are laying down what your legal responsibilities are and practical ways to reduce your impact.
What are my legal responsibilities?
No matter how big your business is, your business will have some kind of impact on the environment. For every kind of waste, there are rules to help you minimise your footprint. If you’re not sure what legal responsibilities are, take a moment to go through this checklist.
- Your business is not polluting and not harming people
- Comply with safety codes and have precautions to prevent industrial accidents, spillage and anything else from harming the surrounding area.
- Do you have all the permits, codes and permissions you need from the Environment Protection Authority
- If your business is producing emissions then you need to brush up on legislation. Make sure your business is unnecessarily damaging air quality by producing too much or releasing ozone depleting substances
- In regards to storing waste you need to make sure you are storing it safely and according to code. Certain kinds of hazardous waste requires treatment before you can throw it away.
- Make sure you are recycling properly. Your cardboard, paper, plastics, metals, glass materials need to be sorted into the correct bins.
- Anything that could disturb or annoy nearby residents needs to be monitored. This includes noise pollution, dust, smells or anything else that could be considered a statutory nuisance
- If you need to flush chemicals into the sewerage system you need to get in contact with the correct authority to make sure everything is up to code
What are the categories of waste?
For any industry that produces a by-product, there are categories of waste that determine how it needs to be treated. Materials are considered hazardous if they are:
- animal by-products
- ozone depleting substances
- pesticides and biocides
- radioactive materials
- hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment
Treatment of these hazardous wastes are divided into three categories:
- Category A is extremely hazardous. These materials are banned from landfills and will need to be treated before you can dispose of them. These types of waste are ones that are inflammable, reactive, corrosive or toxic. Once the waste is treated it is moved down to category B.
- Category B is for high hazard waste. These often need further treatment to reduce them to a category C, however, in some cases, you just need a licence to dispose of them in a category B landfill. Get in touch with the Environment Protection Authority for permission.
- Category C is low hazard waste that can be disposed of in a category C landfill. You will still need a licence to dispose of this waste.
As a business owner, it’s important to know what category your waste is and what the environmental cost is if you don’t follow protocol. If you illegally dump your waste or don’t treat it properly you could be slapped with serious consequences.
What are the penalties?
Don’t think of illegal dumping as a ‘little bit of littering,’ there are serious consequences that can damage the environment and land you with a criminal charge. Not only does it negatively impacts the environment, if you endanger people you could end up with a seven-year sentence.
There are three tiers of penalties when it comes to illegal dumping:
Tier 3 covers on the spot fines:
- $750 on-the-spot fine for individuals for illegal dumping up to a maximum of $1500
- $1500 on-the-spot fines for corporations for illegal dumping up to a maximum of $5000
Tier 2 covers unlawfully using land as waste disposal:
- The maximum penalty in the case of an individual: $250,000 and, in the case of a continuing offence, a further penalty of $60,000 for each day the offence continues
- The maximum penalty in the case of a corporation: $1,000,000 and in the case of a continuing offence, a further penalty of $120,000
Tier 1 covers disposing of illegally waste that is harmful:
- The maximum penalty in the case of an individual: $1,000,000 and/or seven years’ imprisonment
- The maximum penalty in the case of a corporation: $5,000,000
Don’t let it overwhelm you! as long as you keep everything up to code you will be fine. For more information on fines and penalties, check out the Environmental Protection Agency. If a contamination has occurred you’ll need to have the site tested. You should have your site tested regardless to see if there are any environmental risks. Once you have the analysis you can determine what your legal responsibilities are.
What is the best way to prevent accidents?
An accident can be disastrous for your employers, the surrounding population and the ecosystem. It is the worst-case scenario for not keeping up to code with your environmental obligations. While some disasters are beyond our control, others could have easily been prevented. Here is a list of simple steps you can follow that protect you, your business, the health of the people near you and the ecosystem:
- Regular and thorough checks for leaks, contaminations and anything else that puts your business at risk
- Prompt and appropriate action when a risk is detected. Make sure the repairs are made properly
- You have safety protocols and fire plans
- Your employees are trained to follow safety precautions
- Your employees are informed and trained for emergency situations
- Have your business audited and checked regularly. A fresh pair of eyes may pick up something you haven’t considered.
As long as safety protocols are in place, hazardous materials are managed correctly, everything is checked regularly and issues are addressed properly you should be fine.
Do I need to report?
Even if you don’t necessarily need to, regular environmental reports are a good way to keep track of your impact as well as keep your business in line. Most of the time you aren’t required to report but there are times when it’s mandatory. If you don’t know if you need to report your emissions and transfers, there is a National Pollutant Inventory Guide just for that.
How do I make my business greener?
If done right, going green can cut costs, boost your reputation and, most importantly, reduce your impact on the environment. The best way to start transforming your business is to keep it in mind as you go about your workday. Always be on the lookout for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
There are immediate and simple things you can do to start with. Recycling is always a good starting point. Make sure you have the appropriate bins, implement a recycling policy and set an example. Encourage your employees to use reusable cups and containers. And, because you can’t make business without paperwork, invest in recycled paper. Not sure to make your business a recycling superstar? ActSmart Business Recycling is a free program to help make your business an environmentally friendly one.
If you are feeling a little lost on how to make a real difference with your business you can get an environmental audit. This will tell you what your impact is on waste, pollution, noise and much more. It’s a good way to get an idea of where the improvements need to be made and it will help you set environmental goals for your business.
Should I have an Environmental Management System?
If you want to cut down on your footprint and make your businesses more environmentally friendly, then the answer is yes. An Environmental Management System is a guideline and set of practices that will whip your business into shape. When it comes to businesses one size does not fit all. So your Environmental Management System will be tailored to suit you and your business. It is perfect for big or small businesses, you just need to get an audit to get you started.
The basics of an Environmental Management System includes:
- Analyzing its environmental impacts and legal requirements
- Setting your environmental goals
- Creating programs that will get you to those goals
- Monitoring and measuring your progress
- Educating your employees on environmental awareness
- Reviewing the progress of the Environmental Management System and making improvements
Want to know more about what your responsibilities are to the environment? Need advice on an environmental issue? Alpha Environmental offers friendly professional advice for any environmental issue you are concerned about. To learn more, or to request a quote please call us on 1300 039 181.