General binding rules: small sewage discharge to the ground

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General Binding Rules For The Eco System
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UK Regulations: Small Sewage Discharge to Ground

Operating a septic tank or small sewage treatment plant in the UK? You may not need a permit if your system adheres to the General Binding Rules. Understanding these rules is crucial for legal and environmentally responsible wastewater management.

Understanding the General Binding Rules

The rules you must follow depend on when you started discharging sewage to the ground. Let’s break it down:

  • Existing Discharges (Before Jan. 1, 2015): If your system was operational before this date and you haven’t made significant changes, you must meet the basic set of rules.
  • Existing Discharges (Jan. 1, 2015 – Oct 2, 2023): Started your discharge during this period? You must meet both the basic and additional rules.
  • New Discharges (Oct. 2, 2023 and onward): You need to comply with all three sets of rules – basic, additional, and the newest regulations.

Core Rules for All Discharges

  1. Discharge Limit: Limit your daily discharge to 2 cubic meters (2,000 litres) or less. Residential properties can use a helpful calculator for estimations.
  2. Domestic Sewage Only: Ensure the discharged sewage is exclusively domestic wastewater.
  3. Pollution Prevention: Take every step to prevent both groundwater and surface water pollution.

Additional Considerations

  • Permit Requirements: You’ll likely need a permit if you exceed the discharge limit or don’t meet specific guidelines.
  • Planning Permission & Building Regulations: Always obtain the necessary approvals and permissions before installing or modifying a system.

Understanding UK General Binding Rules: Small Sewage Discharge to the Ground

If you own a property with a small sewage system that discharges to the ground, it’s essential to comply with General Binding Rules. These regulations protect water quality and prevent pollution. Here’s a detailed breakdown to help you:

Rule 1: Discharge Volume Limits

  • Crucial Limit: Your discharge to the ground must not exceed 2 cubic meters daily (2,000 liters).
  • Calculating Your Discharge:
    • Residential properties: Utilize a daily discharge calculator readily available online.
    • Commercial or holiday properties: Follow British Water’s Flows and Loads guidance, factoring in all sources.
  • Exceeding Limits: If your discharge surpasses the limit, connecting to the public sewer is generally mandatory when feasible. If not, obtaining an official permit is required.

Rule 3: Domestic Sewage Only

  • Eligible Sources: Wastewater must originate from typical household or business uses (toilets, showers, kitchens, etc.).
  • Additional Information: Find a comprehensive definition of “domestic sewage” on [relevant government websites, etc. – insert a reliable link here].

Rule 4: Prevention of Pollution

  • Zero Tolerance: Your discharge must never cause contamination of groundwater or surface water.

Rule 5: Choosing the Right Treatment System

  • Septic Tanks: Underground vessels where solids settle and wastewater flows to a drainage field for further filtration. Septic tank effluent cannot be discharged directly into watercourses.
  • Small Sewage Treatment Plants: Similar to septic tanks but use mechanical components for higher wastewater treatment standards before release into the drainage field.
  • Drainage Field: A network of perforated pipes in trenches for additional wastewater filtration by the soil.

System Requirements: Your system must meet the relevant British Standard in effect at the time of installation (more on this in Rule 9).

Drainage Mounds: These can comply with General Binding Rules if they are not located in floodplains and are designed according to British Standard BS 6297:2007.

Non-Standard Systems: Avoid These

  • You cannot adhere to General Binding Rules if you use wells, boreholes, or certain older soakaways to discharge wastewater.
  • Upgrade to a compliant drainage field or consider connecting to the public sewer if possible.
  • New discharges should generally avoid non-standard systems due to the increased pollution risk.

Rule 7: Protecting Groundwater (Source Protection Zone 1)

  • Critical Check: Determine if your discharge point is within a groundwater source protection zone 1 (SPZ1). Such zones safeguard drinking water supplies.
  • How to Check: Use the Magic map tool or contact the Environment Agency for assistance.
  • Within a SPZ1? You’ll need a permit with additional conditions to comply with the rules. The Environment Agency can assess pollution risk and offer guidance.

Rule 9: British Standard Compliance is Key

  • When Was Your System Installed? This determines the applicable British Standard.
  • Current Standards: BS EN 12566 for tanks and plants, BS 6297:2007 for drainage fields.
  • How to Verify: Look for a CE mark, a compliance certificate, check British Water’s approved list, or ask your system installer.
  • Pre-1983 Systems: While there was no standard then, ensuring compliance with other General Binding Rules is still mandatory.

Rule 10: Right Size, Proper Installation, and Correct Operation

  • Tailored Capacity: Your system needs to be sized appropriately for the maximum volume of sewage produced. Consult British Water’s Flows and Loads guidance for sizing recommendations or installer advice.
  • Manufacturer’s Guidelines: Strictly follow the installation and operating instructions provided by the manufacturer of your treatment system.
  • Staying Within Limits: If your sewage volume increases (e.g., property extension, additional connections), recalculate your daily discharge. If you exceed 2 cubic meters (2,000 liters), exploring connection to a public sewer may be required.

Rule 11: Maintenance is Key

  • Regular Servicing: Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule or get expert advice from a local maintenance company.
  • Timely Repairs: Don’t delay repairs! Address cracks, leaks, blockages, drainage issues, smells, or electrical/mechanical failures promptly. British Water’s accredited service engineer list is a great resource.
  • New System Considerations: Significant changes to your system may trigger a reassessment as a “new discharge” – check the rules to be sure.

Rule 12: Prevent Sludge Buildup

  • Yearly Desludging (Minimum): Have your tank emptied at least once a year or according to manufacturer recommendations. Sludge buildup can cause serious problems and costly repairs.
  • Registered Waste Carriers: Only use registered companies for sludge removal. Confirm their status or ask for their waste carrier certificate.

Rule 13: Inform Future Owners

  • Smooth Transition: If you sell your property, provide the new owner with written information about your sewage system, including its location, maintenance practices, and records.

Rule 14: Responsible Decommissioning

  • Protect the Environment: When your system is permanently out of use, remove all pollutants and seek advice from a maintenance company for safe decommissioning.

Additional Rules (Post-2015 Discharges)

Rule 15: Prioritize Public Sewer Connection

  • Availability Check: Contact your local water company to see if connection to a public sewer is feasible.
  • Proximity Rules: The General Binding Rules don’t apply if a public sewer is within 30 meters of your property (or a calculated distance for multi-house developments or discharges with non-domestic elements).
  • Rule 16 (Revised): Obtaining Necessary Approvals Always ensure you have planning permission and comply with building regulations when installing a new septic tank or small sewage treatment plant. Consult your local council for specific requirements.
  • Rule 18 (Expanded) Protecting Sensitive Sites Discharging near protected areas is often restricted. These areas include:
    • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
    • Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
    • Ramsar wetland sites
    • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
    • Ancient woodlands
    Use the Magic Map tool ( to check for these sites near your property. If your discharge is close, you may need to connect to the public sewer or obtain a special permit.

Additional Rules for New Systems (2023 Onwards)

  • Rule 22 (Revised): Discharge Point Restrictions If you are installing a new system, it cannot share a discharge point with another system if the combined discharge exceeds 2 cubic meters (2,000 liters) per day.
  • Rule 23: Proximity to Other Discharges Maintain at least a 50-meter distance between your new discharge and any other nearby small sewage discharge systems. Inquire with neighbors to confirm their system types and locations.

Where to Get Help

  • British Water Accredited Engineers: Consult a qualified engineer for advice on your system and ensuring compliance with the General Binding Rules. Find a list at [British Water website].

What Happens if I Don’t Comply?

Discharges that breach the General Binding Rules risk causing pollution, leading to potential enforcement action by the Environment Agency. They will initially provide guidance to help you address any issues.

Situations Where a Permit is Necessary

You must apply for an environmental permit from the Environment Agency if:

  • Connecting to the public sewer is not feasible (you’ll need to provide justification).
  • Your system cannot be modified to meet the General Binding Rules.

Let’s Protect Our Environment

By carefully following these guidelines, you’ll help safeguard water quality in your area and throughout the UK.

Important Note: Regulations are subject to change. Always refer to the official guidance on the GOV.UK website for the most up-to-date information: