If you own, live in, or are building a property off the mains sewage network it’s important you’re aware of the change in legislation regarding septic tanks. In a bid to tackle water pollution, the Environment Agency has set out General Binding Rules, which means you must have plans to upgrade or replace your existing septic tank if it discharges into a watercourse, within a reasonable timescale, typically 12 months.
What are the 2020 General Binding Rules?
The General Binding Rules for small sewage discharges (SSDs) have been put in place to protect England’s surface water resources (e.g. rivers, streams etc.) from pollution caused by septic tanks and other small-scale sewage treatment plants.
Under the new regulations, you can no longer discharge low quality effluent from septic tanks directly into ditches, streams or other watercourses. Instead, you have the option of replacing your system or upgrading it to incorporate a drainage field. This is also known as an infiltration system and means the effluent can seep into the ground instead for further treatment by soil bacteria.
Do the new rules apply to me?
If you’re recognised as an ‘operator’ of a septic tank then the answer is yes! Under the General Binding Rules, an ‘operator’ can be:
The owner of the system, someone who uses the septic tank, another person (e.g. a tenant of leaseholder) who agrees to be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system, through a written agreement with the owner of the system.
What are my options?
If your current system is recognised as causing surface water pollution, then you have three options:
- Connect to a mains sewer – if one is close enough,
- Install a drainage field – only viable if you have enough suitable land,
- Replace your septic tank with a more efficient, modern sewage treatment plant
The most common outcome will be to replace your tank. More modern and effective sewage treatment systems are available today, which produce a much higher-quality effluent. They work by encouraging the formation of bacteria, which then breaks down and digests raw sewage. The result is cleaner, odourless water that can be safely released into groundwater reserves.
Sequence batch reactor (SBR) systems are a particularly popular option. They minimise the risk of untreated waste overflowing by treating it in batches using a series of chambers and an additional buffer tank. They are the most technologically advanced and durable type of sewage treatment system – and here at Graf UK, we see them as the future of off-mains wastewater treatment. SBR systems, such as our One2Clean range, treat waste by mixing and circulating effluent inside one main tank. Because the incoming flow rate has no impact on the speed of the treatment process, they deliver an overall more consistent, efficient performance, along with the highest discharge quality.
Whichever system you choose, yearly checks are recommended to ensure ongoing optimum performance is maintained. Some manufacturers, including GRAF UK, offer maintenance contracts as well as installation services – so make sure you have a plan in place to ensure complete peace of mind.
What else do I need to know?
Under the new General Binding Rules, your septic tank or treatment plant must meet British Standards BS EN 12566 (if in any doubt at all, ask your manufacturer). In addition, the drainage field must meet BS EN 6297:2007 standards.
You also need to ensure that your system is sized and installed correctly, in accordance with British Water’s Flows and Loads 4 guidance. Volumes must be recalculated if the amount of sewage going into the septic tank increases – for example after an extension or if connecting to a new sewage source. Furthermore, you will need to make sure your tank is regularly emptied and maintained by a professional (e.g. a registered waste carrier) in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you are selling or buying, the seller is now legally required to inform potential buyers in writing if a property has a septic tank – including details of its precise location and maintenance requirements.
Bear in mind that if you live in Wales, Scotland, or near a groundwater source protection zone (SPZ1), different rules may apply. Your manufacturer will be able to provide guidance, but always check with your local environmental agency too.