What is POPs Waste?

POPs is an acronym for persistent organic pollutants. These are chemical substances that don’t break down and can be harmful to humans and the environment. They also spread easily via air, water, and wildlife. The main types of POPs waste include upholstered domestic seating (armchairs, sofas, and office chairs) and electrical devices and components.

The Environment Agency introduced new regulations on 1 January 2023 covering the storage and disposal of POPs waste. Homes and businesses must ensure any waste they have that contains any persistent organic pollutants is managed, removed, and disposed of safely and in line with this legislation. POPs waste cannot be disposed of in landfill sites.

Learn all you need to know about what POPs waste is, common examples of POPs waste, and how to dispose of it properly.

old grey four-seater sofa on the street.

What are persistent organic pollutants?

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemical substances that are harmful to human health and the environment. They don’t break down and remain in the environment for a long time, negatively affecting any wildlife and humans they encounter. POPs can transfer by air, and water, and pass from one species to another through the food chain.

This means the impact of POPs can spread far from where they’re produced, used, and released into the environment. Some of the most common examples of persistent organic pollutants are synthetic chemicals used for pest and disease control, crop production, and industrial purposes. These can be produced intentionally or unintentionally (such as byproducts of combustion and industrial processes).

Common persistent organic pollutants examples include:

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – used in electrical equipment
  • Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) – pesticides and insecticides
  • Dioxins and furans – often byproducts of industrial processes
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxic chemical substances

Examples of POPs waste

POPs waste doesn’t just affect industries and organisations that produce chemical waste. Various items of furniture and old electrical and electronic devices and products could contain persistent organic pollutants found in homes and businesses. These must be identified, managed, and disposed of responsibly.

Some of the most common examples of POPs waste found in homes and businesses include upholstered domestic seating. POPs may be present in any parts that contain or are made of leather, synthetic leather, fabric, or foam. Often they’re in the back of the covers and in the foam, which may contaminate any lining and wadding in contact with it.

Common examples of upholstered seating that may contain POPs are:

  • Sofas, sofa beds, and futons
  • Armchairs
  • Kitchen and dining room chairs
  • Stools and footstools
  • Home office chairs
  • Bean bags, floor and sofa cushions
Furniture disposal and recycling

The other main types of waste that may contain POPs are electrical items. PCBs were widely used in electrical equipment, while circuit boards that are present in various items can also include certain types of persistent organic pollutants. Examples of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) that may contain POPs include:

  • Printers and photocopiers
  • Cables
  • LCD screens
  • Cathode ray tubes (CRTs)
  • Ni-Cad batteries
  • Fluorescent tubes
lots of old printers piled up.

What could be exempt 
from POPs regulation?

The manufacture, sale, and use of products containing POPs are now banned. Many items of upholstered domestic seating that class as POPs waste contain decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE). This is a flame-retardant chemical, but its use has been banned since 2019. Therefore, any upholstered seating made after 2019 shouldn’t contain POPs (though you should still check).

Other types of domestic seating that may not contain POPs and should be exempt from regulation include:

  • Seats that aren’t upholstered – like wooden chairs without a cushioned/textile back, seat, or arms
  • Deckchairs
  • Mattresses, curtains, blinds, and beds
  • Newly manufactured domestic seating (post-2019) that the manufacturer can demonstrate doesn’t contain POPs

POPs regulation

The Persistent Organic Pollutants Regulations 2007 requires the destruction of POPs in any waste to protect the environment and impacts on the food chain. It means any waste containing POPs must be incinerated and never reused, recycled, or landfilled. The regulation also makes production and placing on the market any POPs an offence.

The waste management of POPs is covered by this regulation. Any producer or holder of POPs waste who fails to dispose of or recover it in compliance with these regulations commits an offence. Anyone breaching these regulations could face potential penalties of a fine or imprisonment.

In the UK, the Environment Agency brought new legislation into effect from 1 January 2023 for the storage and disposal of POPs waste. These new compliance procedures mean local authorities are now legally required to change their processes for dealing with potential POPs waste. Essentially, any upholstered domestic seating waste must be incinerated.

old armchair in a garage.

How do you dispose 
of POPs waste?

All POPs waste should be stored separately away from other waste types to prevent contamination. If any non-POP waste becomes mixed up with them then the entire load must be treated as POPs waste. This is because the chemicals can spread and contaminate the other waste, meaning it’s now a type of POPs waste.

To determine whether your waste contains persistent organic pollutants you should check any paperwork that came with the item or device. This should list the materials and chemical components, including any POPs. If you can’t find the paperwork or are still unsure, you could:

  • Ask the supplier or manufacturer whether it contains POPs
  • Test the material yourself to check for any evidence of POPs
  • Get the material analysed by a laboratory

Domestic upholstered seating or mixed waste containing POPs must be disposed of through incineration. This destroys the chemicals, preventing their release into the environment. Any municipal or hazardous waste incinerator (or cement kiln) used must be authorised to accept POPs waste. Recycling, reuse, and other treatment methods are not acceptable to dispose of POPs waste.

What should I do with 
my POPs waste?

For any POPs waste you’ve got at home you should check if your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC) accepts upholstered domestic seating. Most HWRCs do, just ensure you keep it separate from other waste and dispose of your POPs waste in the correct container at the site. Your local authority can advise on the process.

Businesses must arrange commercial waste collection by licensed waste carriers for any waste containing POPs. At Business Waste we can provide a free no obligation quote to remove and dispose of any kind and amount of POPs waste from companies anywhere in the UK. One-off collections and disposal of domestic POPs waste is also available.

Licensed waste carriers remove your waste and ensure responsible disposal (incineration) with a free duty of care certificate provided for added peace of mind. Contact us online or call 0800 211 8390 for a free quote for collection of any type and amount of waste that may contain persistent organic pollutants from your home or business today.

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