Cemeteries & Crematoria

Cemetery Waste – An issue not to be buried


Operational burial facilities across the UK all have one thing in common, they produce excess burial arisings during their operational processes, which requires temporary storage on site prior to subsequent offsite disposal to a licensed landfill site.

Many burial sites across the UK treat burial arisings as a material to be ‘lost’ on site in order to reduce operating costs and help to reduce the cost of burial plots to the wider public. However, the construction/formation of mounds/bunds or the infilling of areas on the site, without an approved material management plan, is considered to be illegal landfilling and sites could be prosecuted by the Environment Agency and fined by HMRC.

Excess burial arisings need to be disposed of in line with the current guidance, as part of this, it is the waste producers responsibility to appropriately classify the material prior to off site disposal to ensure the material is sent to an appropriately licensed landfill. Alternatively, IF the burial arisings can be used for a valid purpose within the grounds on the existing cemetery, then the works can be managed under an approved material management plan.

Waste Classification for offsite disposal

The current relevant waste legislation and technical guidance (WM3 1st edition version 1.2 GB, 2021) provides details for the assessment and classification of hazardous waste and sets out the requirements for classification and provides the methodology employed to ensure compliance with the regulations.

The purpose of waste classification is to indicate whether a material, in this case excess soil arisings from burial excavations, would be hazardous or non-hazardous. Following which additional WAC analysis can be used to determine which landfill would be appropriate to receive the waste material.

Should the material be classified as non-Hazardous, then this could either be Non-Hazardous or Inert. Whilst if the material is classified as Hazardous, further assessment would be required to assess whether any pre-treatment would be necessary for the material to be accepted at landfill.

Cemeteries are listed in Section 20 of the List of Wastes (England) Regulations 2005 and are indicated to be an Absolute Non-Hazardous Entry. This means that any waste soil, assuming the site is situated on natural ground rather than made ground, originating from a cemetery can be disposed of as Non-Hazardous, however, additional WAC testing would be required to determine if the material could be sent to an Inert Landfill, which would have significant cost savings to the waste producer.

The main issue with the Absolute Non-Hazardous Entry is that it does not consider the sites historical usage or setting, for example; a cemetery constructed on a former brownfield site could include a significant covering of made ground, which could potentially include hazardous concentrations of certain contaminants, including asbestos in either bulk form or loose fibres. Another example would be a former agricultural field which has been historically used for farming, in this instance, due to the historical use of pesticides and/or herbicides, there is a risk of residual contamination associated with the break-down of the chemicals used. This could lead to increased concentrations of heavy metals, notably Lead and Arsenic, which would potentially affect the classification of the waste soils.

As a waste producer you have a duty of care to ensure that the material you send off site has been correctly classified and is being sent to the correct waste facility. Therefore, even though the list entry for cemetery soil arisings is Absolute Non-Hazardous, due diligence is required on your behalf to ensure that the Non-Hazardous classification is actually the correct one.

The underlying soils should be screened for a ‘full suite’ of chemical components, the composition of this suite and number of samples required will depend on a number of factors, including site size and site history. These results can be used to classify the soils as Non-Hazardous /Hazardous. Following which WAC analysis can be undertaken to determine the final waste facility.

Here at The CDS Group, we can advise you on the appropriate number of samples to be taken, and the correct contaminants to screen for based on the sites history. We can also undertake the relevant testing and provide you with a Preliminary Waste Assessment to be issued to your waste carrier, ensuring that you as the client have met your legal obligations.

Material Management Plan and Onsite Re-use of Waste Material

The waste classification of excess burial arisings is only the first part of the issues associated with excess cemetery soil waste. Based on our experience, it is apparent that there is an industry wide issue with regards to the storage of waste materials on site and the mixing of soil groups and vegetation.

As discussed above, any natural strata could be disposed of as Inert (subject to confirmatory WAC analysis). However, the inclusion of organic materials, such as roots, clippings or topsoil, will mean that the mixed waste would need to be disposed of as Non-Hazardous, which is a significant uplift in disposal costs.

This mixing of materials leads to an increased cost for disposal, so not only is correct waste classification essential from a legal standpoint, but the correct management of the material on site is essential to ensure that the disposal of waste material off site is financially feasible.

An alternative option to the offsite disposal of excess arisings which could be explored is the re-use of clean site won burial arising for defined purposes on site. The creation of a detailed materials management plan would enable the site to clearly define how site won arising would be re-used on site for a clear and defined purpose. Under a material management plan, the site would then be legally able to re-use burial arisings for a defined purpose on site, reducing the cost to dispose of arisings.

The creation of landscaped mounds, or infill of areas to make them suitable for future burial would be considered appropriate, however some uses may be subject to planning consent.

The CDS Group are well placed to assess existing on site practises and to advise you on how to improve on site soil management and storage. Our landscape design team can provide you with workable onsite solutions to manage, store and segregate your waste, prior to disposal to the correct waste disposal facility, helping to improve efficiency by enabling the re-use of suitable soils such as topsoil and subsoil for grave topping up, whilst reducing operational costs by correctly classifying soils to be disposed off site and reducing the volume of arisings transported off site.

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