Decisions on the definition of waste under the EU waste framework Directive 2008/98 inevitably involve quite a bit of factual analysis and Safety-Kleen UK Ltd v The Environment Agency  EWHC 3147 (Admin) is no exception.
Safety-Kleen UK Ltd, the Claimant, provides specialist mechanical parts washers, containing kerosene, to businesses, such as those undertaking automotive repairs and to small engineering businesses. They are used for cleaning the parts of heavy oil, grease, paint, ink, glues and resins. The machines enable a cleaning process by physical means, such as scrubbing and automatic agitation with kerosene, and by kerosene acting as a solvent. Safety-Kleen collects the used kerosene from its customers in drums and replaces it with cleaned kerosene. Safety-Kleen takes the drums of used kerosene back to a depot, empties them into a sump or reservoir and then rinses out the drums with used kerosene from the reservoir, to which the now re-used kerosene returns. From there, the re-used kerosene is pumped into the “dirty” tanks, whence it is tankered away to a different company for a specialised industrial waste recovery or regeneration process, by which the dirty kerosene is distilled and cleaned. The cleaned kerosene is returned to a Safety-Kleen depot, and placed into the cleaned drums.
There was no issue but that the dirty kerosene, when it reached the “dirty” tanks at the depot was “waste”, within the WFD, and remained waste when transferred to the depot for distillation and waste until it was cleaned for re-use by customers. Until 2017, there had been no issue between Safety-Kleen and the Environment Agency but that the used kerosene was waste when it was collected by Safety-Kleen from its customers’ premises. However, in 2017, Safety-Kleen concluded that the kerosene did not become waste until it had been used for the cleaning of the drums back at the depot, and was sent to the “dirty” tanks, to await removal for recovery or regeneration. The Agency thought otherwise.
Ouseley J discussed the classics with particular focus on Arco Chemie and Shell, and at 50-51 a rather odd deference even in judicial review, to what the regulator itself held. The EU definition of waste is a legal concept; not one to be triggered by the Agency’s conviction. Nevertheless he reaches his ‘own judgment’ (52) fairly easily and, I believe on the basis of the facts available, justifiably, that the kerosene is being discarded by the holder, it being ‘indifferent to what beneficial use Safety-Kleen may be able to make of it back at the depot’ (at 56).
Claimant’s reliance on Shell seemed not the most poignant, seeing as the case here is not one of reverse logistics but rather one of truly spent raw materials on their way to perhaps receiving a second life following treatment.
Handbook of EU Waste law, OUP, second ed, 2015.