POPs Waste Disposal – What are Persistent Organic Pollutants

01 July 2024 by CSG

Pops waste disposal of household and office furniture.

What are POPS?

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic substances that persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms. They pose a risk to both human health and the environment.

POPs can be transported by air, water or migratory species across international borders. They can reach areas where they have never been produced or even used! These pollutants resist degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic process leading to their persistence in the environment for extended periods.

The term persistent organic pollutants can be better understood as follows:

  • Persistent: not broken down by natural processes and therefore persist in the environment in water, soil, plants and animals. This means they last for long periods of time.
  • Organic: carbon-based chemical compounds
  • Pollutants: contaminate the environment through their release into the atmosphere and watercourses

POPs are often referred to in the media as ‘forever chemicals’.

Where are they used?

POPs (or persistent organic pollutants) are poisonous chemicals which have been and are still used in common household items, including:

  • Fire-resistant furniture
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Non-stick kitchenware
  • Grease-resistant food packaging; and
  • Stain-resistant carpets.

POPs have been widely used throughout the supply chain. They are used in all kinds of products including pesticides, industrial processes and can also be released into the environment unintentionally. Some POPs banned decades ago (such as mirex, dieldrin and hexachlorobenzene) are still detected at elevated levels around us today, as these chemicals were made with the intention to last ‘forever’.

With global chemical sales projected to grow to euro 6.6 trillion by 2030, and so many new chemicals and materials continuously being designed and released on the market, many of these new materials could eventually become a POP. POPs are an increasing threat to humans and the environment.

Risks and regulations

Humans are exposed to POPs in a variety of ways, mainly through the food chain, the air we breathe and in the workplace. Many products we use in our daily lives used to contain or may still contain POPs. POPs were added to improve product characteristics, such as flame retardancy or waterproofing.

The POPs Regulation aims to protect human health and the environment with specific control measures that:

  • Prohibit or severely restrict the production, placing on the market and use of POPs
  • Minimise the environmental release of POPs that are formed as industrial by-products
  • Make sure that stockpiles of restricted POPs are safely managed; and
  • Ensure the environmentally sound disposal of waste consisting of or contaminated by POPs.

Chemical substances that have been identified as POPs include:

  • Pesticides (such as DDT)
  • Industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which were widely used in electrical equipment such as transformers); and
  • Unintentional by-products formed during industrial processes, degradation or combustion (such as dioxins and furans).

The harmful effects of POPs include various health issues such as reproductive and development abnormalities, immune system repression and an increased risk of certain diseases. POPs have also been linked to environmental problems including harm to wildlife and ecosystems.

Scientific evidence also shows that long‐term exposure even to low levels of POPs can also lead to ill health. These factors include increased cancer risk, reproductive disorders, impairment and increased birth defects.

Here is an informative video from the UN Environment Programme about the damage that Persistent Organic Pollutants can do:

Guidance on how to identify & store POPs waste

As per the government guidance, you are responsible under your duty of care to know if your waste material contains POPs. Government guidance also says you must take all reasonable steps to avoid mixing POPs waste with other waste during storage, collection and treatment.

If the product already outlines what chemicals it contains then you will know whether it contains POPs by comparing that list to the banned list issued by the Stockholm Convention.

Testing for POPs in furniture can be carried out, but the equipment is expensive and not easy to use; it should be used by a competent person who knows how to use the equipment correctly. The usual test method is x-ray fluorescence (XRF) to scan for bromine, which indicates that POPs are likely to be present.

If you are uncertain if POPs are present, advice from the Chartered Institute of Waste Management published by IWFM says that it is best to assume that your waste does contain POPs and it should be handled accordingly

For more information on describing, classifying and disposing of POPs waste, visit the gov.uk website using the links below:




POPs waste disposal

In January 2023 new legislation came into power in the UK regarding the disposal of waste containing POPs. Waste containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) MUST be incinerated and cannot be disposed of in landfill. There is no other disposal route that is currently viable or legal for POPs disposal.

The highly toxic nature of POPs and their ability to persist in the environment justifies this disposal route. Incineration is one of the few known ways that can effectively destroy these chemicals. High temperature combustion (above 1200 degrees Celsius) must be used to ensure that the molecules are destroyed safely.

Not all incinerators are suitable for handling POPs. Specialist equipment is required to ensure the safe and complete disposal of the pollutants.

If the wrong disposal method is chosen or an unsuitable incinerator used, then there is a high chance of releasing POPs into the environment.

How can CSG help to dispose of POPs?

Does your company have POPs that need to be disposed of? CSG are on hand to help!

We can help you send your POPs waste to be incinerated and turned into low carbon energy. We work with waste to energy recovery centres that convert the heat generated from waste into electricity and heat for homes. This is part of the network that powers around 18 million European homes and heats 15 million.

So, if you currently have any POPs waste that needs disposing of, or any other hazardous waste collection & disposal requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!