Disposing of agricultural waste – a burning issue

Scottish Environment Protection Agency closes exemptions on burning farm plastics and most types of agricultural waste. 

18 June 2019

From 1 January 2019, farmers in Scotland are no longer permitted to burn farm plastics and most types of agricultural waste under the environmental exemptions to the Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2005.  

Although the practice was banned in England in 2006, farmers in Scotland were allowed to incinerate farm plastics, including silage wrap, crop covers, fertiliser bags and containers under an exemption to the environmental regulations. 

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has now ended this exemption, so farmers will need to look at alternative methods of handling farm waste.

SEPA hopes that by ending the exemption on waste burning, bringing the agricultural market into line with other Scottish industries, this will in turn increase the recycling rates of plastics and reduce the environmental impact of farm waste. 

What materials can still be burned?

Although incineration of the majority of farm waste is no longer permitted, there are certain materials that farmers may still burn, provided the waste consists of plant material which is either agricultural waste, was produced as a result of demolition work or on certain types of land, including:

  • land which is part of an operational railway, tramway or British waterway;
  • a forest, woodland, park, garden, verge or landscaped area;
  • a recreation or sports ground; or
  • a churchyard or cemetery. 

Burning of waste under these exceptions must be carried out on the land where it was produced, and by whoever produced the waste. The total quantity of material that can be burned in any 24 hour period cannot exceed 10 tonnes.

Burning of plant waste for the purpose of removing any suspected plant pests, in compliance with a notice under Article 32 the Plant Health (Scotland) Order 2005, is also exempted.

To be able to continue to burn any agricultural waste under this exception, provided it does not cause any detriment to human health or cause pollution, farmers must obtain an exemption from SEPA. This can be applied for online for free, or by completing a paper form, and SEPA has warned it will take enforcement action if the regulations are not observed.

Alternatives to disposal include:-

  • Collection for recycling by specialist contractors: a list of collectors is available on Zero Waste Scotland’s website here, or, as agriculture waste is deemed ‘commercial waste’, farmers can request their local authority to collect it, but there may be a fee for this. 
  • Recovery of any value from the waste: farmers can send the waste to an authorised Energy from Waste facility. A list of Energy from Waste sites is available on SEPA’s website here
  • If there are no other alternatives, disposing of the waste in an authorised landfill. To access the landfill you may need to register with SEPA as a Professional Collector and Transporter of Waste.

No action is required for the storage of farm plastics on site prior to collection for onward recycling or disposal, however if the plastics are compacted or baled prior to collection, you will need to register for an exemption with SEPA. 


Failure to comply with the new requirements for disposal of farm waste could lead to enforcement action being taken by SEPA. The type of enforcement action will depend on the nature of the breach and the harm caused by the breach, and ranges from fixed monetary penalties, variable monetary penalties, the relatively new enforcement undertakings, or referral to the Procurator Fiscal in serious cases. 

A successful prosecution can lead to significant fines being imposed by the courts.


Additional reporting by Sophie Dickson