Non-hazardous waste: treatment and disposal

Treating and disposing of non-hazardous farm waste, sending to landfill, burying waste, incinerating fallen stock and recycling waste fuel oil.


The waste disposal options available to you will depend on the type of waste you want to dispose of.

You must use the waste management hierarchy to determine how to prevent, prepare for reuse, recycle or use other recovery methods. You must only dispose of waste if you have found the first four options inappropriate.

This guide has information on treating and disposing of waste, sending your non-hazardous waste to landfill sites, burying waste, and incinerating fallen stock and other animal by-products. When you send waste away from your site you must declare on your waste transfer note. This page is about non-haz waste, so you don’t need to mention consignment notes that you have applied the waste management hierarchy to.

You can also find guidance here on how to recycle waste fuel oil, and the associated regulations that apply.

Incineration and the Waste Incineration Regulations

Incinerators used for burning most kinds of waste are subject to the Waste Incineration (England and Wales) Regulations 2002. These are designed to reduce risks to the environment and human health, and ensure effective control of emissions to the air, soil, and surface or groundwater.

Incinerators that are used to burn only animal carcasses or parts of carcasses, ie no other waste or animal by-products, are exempt from many of the more complicated requirements of the regulations. They must still be approved by the farm’s local authority, however.

For more detailed information on the disposal of carcasses, see the guide on dealing with animal by-products.

If you wish to install an incinerator on your farm - or if you are part of a co-operative of farmers that wishes to install a shared incinerator - you will need approval of the installation and associated equipment, including storage areas.

You can download an incinerator approval form from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website (PDF, 591K). This includes detailed guidance about the limitations and requirements for the incinerator and its installation.

Chemical container disposal

Drum incinerators can no longer be used to dispose of waste plastic, eg rinsed pesticide containers, fertiliser bags or silage wrap. Waste plastics must now be taken to a registered waste disposal site.

For more information, see the guide on hazardous waste: treatment and disposal.

Livestock carcass disposal

Livestock that dies of natural causes or disease, or is killed on the farm for purposes other than human consumption, is known as ‘fallen stock’. It must not be buried on the farm, instead it must be treated and disposed of in accordance with the Animal By-Products Regulations (ABPR).

The only exception to this rule is in some remote parts of the UK, or during outbreaks of notifiable diseases.

You can read more in the guide on dealing with animal by-products.

If fallen stock is to be incinerated on your farm, the incinerator must comply with EU ABPR, and it must not be used to incinerate other animal by-products - eg waste food or processed meat. Your local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency office (AHVLA) will be able to explain the requirements of the ABPR in detail, but the key requirements are that:

  • you must take all necessary precautions to prevent direct risks to human or animal health
  • the incineration plant - including the storage areas - must be designed so as to prevent the release of any polluting substances into the soil, surface water and groundwater
  • you must have storage capacity for runoff of contaminated rainwater, water from accidental spillage or from any fire-fighting operations
  • ash from the incinerator must be disposed of as waste to a permitted landfill site - although land application of ash from on-farm incineration of pig and poultry carcasses is allowed, as long as an exemption has been registered with the Environment Agency

Inspections of your incinerator will be carried out by the environmental health department of your local authority, or by the AHVLA executive.

If you send fallen stock carcasses to an incinerator, you must make sure that it is properly authorised.

Mobile livestock incinerators

The use of mobile incinerators enables highly infectious carcasses to be disposed of without being moved from the farm, but they also have the potential to introduce disease between different holdings. If mobile incinerators are used, they must meet strict biosecurity controls - in line with those applied to vehicles that travel from farm to farm. They must be:

  • used only on farms approved by the AHVLA
  • operated by a dedicated operator
  • disinfected between farms

They must also meet the standard requirements for fixed on-farm incinerators as given above.

Shared incinerators

Groups or co-operative farms may use a shared incinerator to dispose of their fallen stock, providing all of the controls and requirements for single-farm incinerators are met. However, the incinerator must not be located on a livestock farm, as this would involve moving fallen stock from one livestock holding to another. In addition, strict biosecurity measures must be observed.

Disposing of farm waste at landfill

A landfill is a waste disposal site where waste is deposited onto or into the land.

In the past, many farmers relied on burying waste on their farms or sending their waste to landfill. However, because of the impact this has had on the environment and human health, laws have been introduced to prevent waste being buried on farms and to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

To reduce the amount of waste being produced, and to discourage the use of landfill, a landfill tax applies over and above the actual costs of using this option. Aside from environmental advantages, using alternative forms of waste treatment makes sound business sense.

See the guide on landfill tax.

Duty of care

If you give waste from your business to someone else - including waste destined for landfill - you have a legal responsibility to ensure they are authorised to take it and that it’s accompanied by a ‘transfer note’. A transfer note is a written description that enables those handling the waste to do so safely and to treat it appropriately. This is known as your duty of care.

Read the guide on duty of care - your waste responsibilities.

Fuel oil

Under the Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (England) Regulations 2010, if your farm stores more than 1,500 litres of fuel oil for agricultural purposes - and the facilities were constructed or substantially altered after 1991 - you must ensure that:

  • containers are sited more than ten metres from the nearest watercourse
  • oil tanks, drums and intermediate bulk containers, and their associated equipment, are within a bund or secondary containment system
  • valves and taps are kept locked when the tank is not in use
  • flexible pipes are fitted with an automatic closure valve and locked within the bund when not in use

If you do not comply with the regulations, you are committing a criminal offence and could be prosecuted or fined up to £5,000.

Advice on storing oil is published by DefraDownload their guidance on protecting water, soil and air from the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website (PDF, 1.38MB).

Secondary containment systems

A secondary containment system (SCS) is an additional container used to catch any oil leaking from the primary container, such as a tank. There are also regulations governing their use that you must comply with, such as:

  • your SCS should have no outlet and be impermeable to oil and water
  • the bund should be capable of holding at least 110% of the largest tank’s capacity, or 25% of total capacity if there is more than one tank - whichever is the greater
  • the bund should be watertight and made to last for 20 years
  • bund walls must be constructed so that they contain any fuel that may jet from the side of the tanks, especially if the tank is raised from the ground
  • when not in use, all taps and valves should be switched off and locked shut

Dealing with spills

You will also need to have an incident response plan to refer to in the event of a spill. You must ensure that staff are fully trained and know what to do when an incident arises. You can download a sample incident response plan in Pollution Prevention Guideline 21 from the Environment Agency website (PDF, 113K).

You must dispose of any materials contaminated with oil as hazardous waste. See the guide on hazardous waste: treatment and disposal.

Recycling your waste oil

You may be able to burn waste oils for heating. You can only burn certain types of oil as fuel, eg engine oil, diesel, central heating oil. 

You can read about permits and licences for burning waste on the NetRegs website.

It is also important to remember that waste oil is a hazardous waste.

Find your nearest registered waste site on the Waste Directory website.

Find your nearest oil bank on the Oil Care Campaign website.

Disposing of plant material

Many farms generate waste plant and vegetable materials as part of the normal activities of running the farm. You may need to get an environmental permit or register an exemption from environmental permitting before:

  • chipping, shredding, cutting or pulverising logs, branches, and other wood waste to use for mulching and weed prevention
  • leaving plant materials - such as spoiled crops - on land to rot down
  • composting plant waste - see the guide on managing nutrients and fertilisers.
  • spreading plant material - hedge clippings, etc - and ditch dredgings for agricultural or ecological benefits

New environmental permitting regulations came into force on 6 April 2010. If you registered an exemption before 6 April 2010, you will have to re-register or get an environmental permit under the new system.

It is free to register exemptions and you can re-register in the new system at any time. Register your waste exemptions on the Environment Agency website.

There are different dates by which you must have re-registered or applied for a standard permit under the new system. For more information download a table of transitional dates for the environmental permitting regulations from the Environment Agency website (PDF, 62K).

Find out about exemptions from environmental permitting for farmers on the Environment Agency website.

Read about standard environmental permits for waste activities on the Environment Agency website.

Incinerating plant waste

If the plant waste on your farm is the result of insect infestation or plant diseases, you will need to incinerate the waste. Incineration can be also used to dispose of various other kinds of agricultural and horticultural wastes - including those coming from fruit, ornamentals, potatoes, and root or leafy vegetables. Diseased or infected waste must not be burned in the open air, but must be incinerated in a properly installed incinerator. This may have to be authorised by your local authority and you may need to register a waste exemption with the Environment Agency.

Find out about exemptions that allow you to burn plant tissue waste on the Environment Agency website.

See the guide on minimising farm waste, composting and recycling.

Download Defra’s Code of Good Agricultural Practice (CoGAP) from the ADLib website (PDF, 1.38MB).

Environmental permits and registering waste exemptions

You may need an environmental permit for your waste activities. Although some activities do not need a permit, they still need to be registered with the Environment Agency. These are called exempt waste activities. If you have a registered exemption, you must comply with specific limits for that exemption.

Examples of activities that require an exemption include composting plant waste, using wood chips for animal bedding and burning plant matter in the open.

Changes to environmental permitting and exemptions

New environmental permitting regulations came into force on 6 April 2010.

If you have an exemption that you registered before 6 April 2010, you will need to re-register under the new system. Some activities that required an exemption under the old regulations will now need an environmental permit, eg landspreading wastes such as paper sludge or food processing wastes.

Find out about how the new regulations affect farmers on the Environment Agency website.

Find out about what standard permits are available on the Environment Agency website

Download guidance if you think you may need a standard permit for an existing activity from the Environment Agency website (PDF, 203K).

Re-registering your exemptions

It is free to register exemptions and you can re-register in the new system at any time. Register your waste exemptions on the Environment Agency website.

There are different dates by which you must have re-registered or applied for a standard permit under the new system. For more information download a table of transitional dates for the environmental permitting regulations from the Environment Agency website (PDF, 62K).

Further information on treating and disposing of non-hazardous waste

Further information on incinerating waste on farms is available in other guides on this website, and from the following organisations.

The Environment Agency is the body that enforces waste policy in England and Wales. They can help you with all aspects of managing your waste and provide advice on regulations, good practice and your responsibilities.

You can call the Environment Agency Helpline on 03708 506 506 for general enquiries, or use the Environment Agency Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60 to report an environmental incident and get emergency help.

One of the major roles of Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. They administer European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, imports and exports of crops, and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for licences and schemes for growers, as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA Helpline on 0845 603 7777. You can also read the guide on the Single Payment Scheme (SPS).

In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on 0845 345 1302. Alternatively, find information on cross compliance requirements on the Cross Compliance website.

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) works in the UK to help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste, developing sustainable products, and using resources in an efficient way. WRAP is a not-for-profit company backed by government funding from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can find composting and digestate product news and support on the WRAP website.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities. You can read about the work of the NFU on the NFU website.

Farmers are likely to come into contact with local authorities over a number of farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Further information

Environment Agency Incident Hotline

0800 80 70 60

WRAP Resource Efficiency Helpline

0808 100 2040

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

RPA Helpline

0845 603 7777

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Environmental permitting regulations on the Defra website

Dealing with environmental issues on your farm - guidance on the NetRegs website

Agricultural waste guidance on the Environment Agency website

Licensed recycling and waste disposal sites directory on the NetRegs website

Download non-hazardous waste hierarchy guidance from the Defra website (PDF, 307K)

Waste information and the waste hierarchy on the Environment Agency website

Download an incinerator approval form from the Defra website (PDF, 591K)

Composting and digestate product news and support on the WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) website

Download a sample incident response plan from the Environment Agency website (PDF, 113K)

Download Defra’s guidance on protecting water, soil and air from the ADLib website (PDF, 1.38MB)

Cooking oil as fuel exemption information on the Environment Agency website

Using waste edible oil and fat to produce biodiesel on the Environment Agency website

Environmental permitting guidance on the Environment Agency website

Organisation information on the NFU website

Published 22 August 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Fixing references to specialist guides
  2. First published.