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Burning on-farm waste

Every day SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland's environment and from 1 January 2019 we will strictly enforce the requirements of waste legislation, bringing an end to the practice of burning most types of agricultural waste on farms, including farm plastics. Compliance with this is non-negotiable.

Ending the exemption follows extensive engagement between SEPA, Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland, NFUS and recycling service providers. In particular, we have worked closely with NFU Scotland to roll out the change which will feature ongoing dialogue with farmers and crofters over the coming months.

Arrangements prior to 31 December 2018

To give the sector time to make alternative arranagement, land managers may continue current practices until 31 December 2018 as part of the transition. However, this will only be tolerated, if it is carried out in a manner that does not cause problems for neighbouring communities. If the burning of agricultural waste has an impact upon neighbouring communities during the transitional period, up to and including the 31 December 2018, SEPA reserves the right to take enforcement action.

Advice on making arrangements to recycle, recover and dispose of waste

Many land managers already have their farm waste collected for recycling. All land managers should now seek to have these arrangements in place or dispose of waste legally. Details for service providers are available from Zero Waste Scotland.

You have a legal duty to take measures to apply the waste hierarchy. This means, in order of preference, you should ideally avoid generating waste, reduce the amount of waste generated on farm or reuse the materials to extend their useful life  The most practical steps you can take are to:

  • Recycle your waste by engaging with a specialist contractor. As agricultural waste is legally described as ‘commercial waste’ you can ask your local authority to provide a collection service, although they are entitled to charge for the service.
  • Recover your waste by other means, e.g. by sending to an authorised Energy from Waste facility.
  • As a last resort, dispose of your waste to an authorised landfill. You may need a Professional Collectors and Transporters of Waste  permit to access the landfill. There is no fee for this.
  • If a land manager carries anybody's waste other than their own, even if it is from another land manager, then they must be a registered waste carrier (RWC). Online registration is available. There is a fee for this, currently £210, and registrations are valid for three years.

If your waste carriers registration is due to expire before 1 April 2021 SEPA will treat it as extended until 30 June 2021. We will provide updated information on how to submit a renewal application when this is available.

Advice for those in rural and island communities

  • Existing service providers may be prepared to offer this service if there is demand in an area - so get in touch and let them know you are interested.
  • Work together with other farmers and crofters in your area to consider what you can do collectively to make it easier for collectors to get access to your materials. For example, could you set up a central collection point? This arrangement is already successful in many areas including Orkney and Bute.
  • Explore with suppliers who deliver materials to their farm whether they can offer a take-back scheme. This sector has tremendous power to influence these suppliers to innovate and help address waste management issues. 
  • Agricultural waste is commercial waste. If you cannot find a private contractor to help contact your local authority about providing a commercial waste collection.
  • There may be opportunities to diversify to set up a business locally to take the material to the collection points.

If all other options have been exhausted then agricultural waste can be sent to landfill at a licenced site or to an energy from waste plant but this should only be considered as a last resort.

Storage of farm waste plastic

If you just store your own farm plastics on site prior to collection by another party, such as a recycling company, then you do not need to inform SEPA about this or register anything with us. The storage of your plastic on your own land is covered by a non registerable exemption referred to as a Paragraph 41.

If you compact or bale your farm plastic on your own site, prior to collection for onward recycling, then you need to register a FREE paragraph 27 exemption with us. An online registration is available to do this or you can still use a paper form if you wish - Simple exemption notification form. Contact us before submitting an application using our online contact form

If you are a recycling company and set up an ad-hoc collection centre for a particular day at a central location, then you do not need to inform SEPA about this or register the site with us. The storage of your plastic on the ad-hoc site is covered by a non registerable exemption referred to as a Paragraph 40.

If you wish to establish a more permanent site where others can bring their farm waste to, then you will need to register a FREE paragraph 17 exemption with SEPA, an online registration is availableto do this or you can still use a paper form if you wish -  Simple exemption notification formContact us before submitting an application using our online contact form.


From 1 January 2019, there are some farm wastes that can continue to be burned under the terms of the paragraph 29 of Schedule 1 of the Waste Management Licensing (Scotland) Regulations 2011. It is important to note that even these wastes can only be burned after 1 January 2019 if the activity does not cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health.

Biomass such as:

  • vegetable waste from agriculture and forestry;
  • vegetable waste from the food processing industry, if the heat generated is recovered;
  • fibrous vegetable waste from pulp-making, if the heat generated is recovered; 
  • uncontaminated wood waste (but not paper or card).

Only burned under very specific conditions contained in exemption 29 are uncontaminated cork waste and animal carcasses. The exemption states:

(1) The disposal of waste as specified in sub-paragraph (1A) at the place where it is produced, by the person producing it, by burning it in an incinerator. (1A) The specified disposal is the burning of biomass waste or animal carcasses to the extent that doing so is, or forms part  of  an activity falling within paragraphs (a) or (b) of Part B of Section 5.1 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 2012 Regulations.”

For information Section 5.1 of part b says:

 a) Incineration of biomass waste in an incineration or co-incineration plant with a capacity of—

(i) more than 50 kilograms per hour, and (ii) equal to or less than 3 tonnes per hour. (b) Incineration of animal carcasses in an incineration or co-incineration plant with a capacity— (i) of more than 50 kilograms per hour, and (ii) equal to or less than 10 tonnes per day.

 Further information on activities exempt from waste management licensing is available.