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Doing business in the UK: Environmental rules

05 March 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 30 March 2012

Businesses in the UK have a legal responsibility for the impact they have on the environment.


Your responsibilities for the environment

Key environmental legislation is available per region (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) and per subject area (air, chemicals, waste, etc.) on the following web pages:

English environmental legislation

Northern Ireland environmental legislation

Scottish environmental legislation

Welsh environmental legislation

Environmental control

Land development

Land legislation in the UK covers:

  • nature conservation
  • pollution from agricultural operations contaminated land (including radioactive contamination)
  • liability for environmental damage

English land legislation

Northern Ireland land legislation

Scottish land legislation

Welsh land legislation

The Planning Portal is the UK Government's online planning and building regulations resource for England and Wales.

Planning Portal

Waste management

Waste responsibilities include storing waste safely and securely and having it collected by an approved organisation.

Waste responsibilities - Business Link 

English waste legislation 

Northern Ireland waste legislation 

Scottish waste legislation 

Welsh waste legislation


UK chemicals legislation covers using, storing, transporting, packaging, labelling and disposing of chemicals and other substances that could harm the environment. It also covers the qualifications required to use certain chemicals and measures to control major accident hazards involving dangerous substances.

Chemicals - Business Link

English chemicals legislation

Northern Ireland chemicals legislation

Scottish chemicals legislation

Welsh chemicals legislation


It is an offence to discharge anything into surface waters or groundwater without Environment Agency consent. Groundwater regulations control the disposal of harmful substances into groundwater, including pesticides, herbicides and solvents.

Preventing Water Pollution - Business Link

English water regulations

Northern Ireland water legislation

Scottish water legislation

Welsh water legislation

Climate and air

Businesses have legal duties regarding air pollution and providing a safe working environment. These can be found in Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Air pollution - Business Link

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - Section 2

English air legislation

Northern Ireland air legislation

Scottish air legislation

Welsh air legislation

Noise protection

The main legal duties apply where noise exposure in a business is likely to equal or exceed certain action values - notably 80 decibels and 85 decibels averaged over a working day or week - although there are also values relating to the maximum, or 'peak', noise to which employees are exposed. However, the main focus is on control through good practice rather than measurement.

English noise and statutory nuisance legislation

Northern Ireland noise and nuisance legislation

Scottish noise and statutory nuisance legislation

Welsh noise and statutory nuisance legislation

Administrative procedures

Permits and licences

Certain business activities require special authorisations, including licences, permits and consent. These normally need to be obtained from the Environment Agency, but local authorities and water companies are responsible for some authorisations.

Environmental Permitting

Land development

The Planning Portal is the one-stop shop for planning and building services online. You can use it to:

  • learn about planning and building regulations
  • apply for planning permission
  • find out about development near you
  • appeal against a decision
  • research government policy

Planning Portal

Waste management

Businesses must complete a waste transfer or consignment note when waste is handed over.

Waste transfer note

Consignment note

In terms of waste packaging responsibilities, if a business's turnover is more than £2 million and it handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year, it must register with the environmental regulator or join an approved compliance scheme.

Waste packaging responsibilities

Hazardous waste must be correctly classified and described. It must also be disposed of at, or recovered from, an officially licensed facility.

Hazardous substances and the environment


In an effort to prevent water pollution, environmental permits control discharges into surface waters and groundwater. Abstraction licences are required from the Environment Agency when using large quantities of water from surface waters or groundwater.

Environmental permit

Abstraction licence

Source: European Commission