Christian M. 7 min read

Asbestos waste

Asbestos was once hailed as a pivotal material, providing remarkable insulation and strength to the new products churned by a burgeoning industrial revolution.

Fast-forward a century, and asbestos has become synonymous with trouble. Finding it embedded in the structure of any property makes refurbishments or demolitions extremely expensive due to safety concerns about its potential impacts on health and the environment.

This article explores asbestos, and its current safe removal and disposal practices.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • Various types: Asbestos comes in several types, including chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. Each has specific historical uses in construction and industry due to its heat-resistant and insulating properties.
  • Risks and regulations: Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause severe diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, leading to widespread bans and regulations from the 1980s onwards.
  • Safe removal and disposal: Proper handling, removal, and disposal of asbestos requires licensed professionals, specific safety measures, and adherence to strict regulatory guidelines to prevent exposure and environmental contamination.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals known for their heat resistance, strength, and insulating properties. Asbestos can be woven into fabrics or used to provide insulation and fireproofing. As a result, asbestos was widely used in construction materials, automotive parts, and various industrial products.

However, inhaling asbestos was discovered to be highly hazardous to human health. Doing so can lead to serious respiratory diseases, including “asbestosis,” lung cancer, and “mesothelioma.” Due to these health risks, the use of asbestos has been heavily restricted or banned in most countries, with proper safety and professional handling required to prevent exposure.

What does asbestos look like?

Many think of asbestos as a fibrous white powder. This is true for the most part, because white Chrysolite is the most common type of asbestos, having been widely used in roofing, brake linings, gaskets and insulation.

However, there are other niche types of asbestos with significant historical uses. Here’s a summary of the different types together with their typical use cases and key characteristics:

Type of AsbestosAppearanceColourCommon Uses
ChrysotileCurly, flexible fibresWhite to greyRoofing materials, brake linings, gaskets
AmositeStraight, brittle fibresBrownCement sheets, insulation, roofing materials
CrocidoliteStraight, sharp, brittle fibresBluePipe insulation, spray-on coatings, cement products
AnthophylliteBrittle, needle-like fibresGrey to brownInsulation, some cement products (less common)
Tremolite and ActinoliteStraight, needle-like fibresGreen to whiteContaminants in other minerals; not used commercially

Brief history of asbestos

The history of asbestos goes back thousands of years, with asbestos fibres being identified in ancient Egyptian, Greek and then Roman textiles and pottery.

Its use continued but increased significantly during the Industrial Revolution, as up-and-coming manufacturers used it extensively due to its fire-resistant and insulating properties. It became a staple ingredient of steam engines, boilers, pipes, and turbines.

At the turn of the 20th century, it became widely used in construction materials, including insulation, roofing and flooring, and in car manufacturing. It was during this time that the health risks associated with its use began to surface, with reports of lung problems among workers.

During the 1960s, Medical research established a clear link between asbestos exposure and the serious diseases it caused. In the 70s, many countries began regulating its use, with the US and Europe implementing significant restrictions.

In the UK, the Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985 banned blue and brown asbestos (crocidolite and amosite). White asbestos (chrysotile) was later prohibited by an amendment to the same regulations in 1999, with a complete prohibition on the importation, supply, and use of all types of asbestos coming into effect at this time.

Fast-forward to 2024, and asbestos is still a regular fixture in health and safety talks of the construction industry. It is present in many older buildings and products, posing ongoing health and safety risks for renovation and demolition crews in the construction industry.

Safe removal and disposal of asbestos

Our asbestos regulations section links to the official guidelines and laws for safe asbestos management. This section summarises them in a more digestible format, breaking them down systematically from identifying the material to disposing of it:

Identifying asbestos

The first step is to ensure any asbestos is identified in any pre-1999 UK commercial building.

A licensed asbestos surveyor conducts a thorough inspection of the property. This can be a management survey (to manage asbestos in place) or a refurbishment/demolition survey (for major works). The surveyor will take samples of suspected materials for laboratory analysis and deliver a detailed report outlining the presence, type, and condition of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

Finding licensed contractors

All contractors must be licensed by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It is preferable to hire contractors with experience in dealing with asbestos associated with your specific type and age of building. If possible, request references and check for public work testimonials. Ensure the contractor has adequate insurance coverage, including public liability and asbestos-specific coverage.

Asbestos removal

The next step is to remove the asbestos, which begins with a management plan including risk assessments and a removal strategy. The area must be completely sealed off to prevent asbestos release, even using negative air pressure units if necessary, and all workers must wear appropriate PPE, such as respirators and disposable overalls.

Wet removal methods minimises fibre release, and decontamination units must be provided for workers to use before leaving the site. Air monitoring must be conducted during and after removal to ensure safe fibre levels.

Asbestos waste management

Asbestos waste must be segregated from other types of waste during removal, storage, collection, and disposal. It should always be stored in double heavy-duty, leak-proof bags and labelled hazardous waste. Only waste management facilities licensed to accept asbestos waste should be used for disposal, and a complete hazardous waste consignment note should be provided for each load of asbestos waste.

Asbestos waste transportation

Transport vehicles for asbestos waste are specially designed and regulated to ensure safety. Drivers are trained in hazardous waste transport, and trucks use sealed, leak-proof containers and double-bagged waste to prevent any asbestos release. Vehicles are equipped with closed transport units, special liners, and display hazard warning labels, and drivers know their freight must come accompanied by waste consignment notes.

Asbestos waste disposal

Asbestos waste disposal sites are licensed facilities that follow strict regulations to process and contain asbestos waste safely. The sealed asbestos is typically buried in designated hazardous waste landfills with special reinforced liners to prevent contamination. This ensures both environmental safety and public health protection.

Where does asbestos go once it has been removed?

As we mentioned earlier in the asbestos waste management process, asbestos’s end destination is specialised waste disposal sites. In the UK asbestos waste is typically buried in hazardous waste landfills.

Asbestos waste recycling

Due to its hazardous nature, asbestos is currently not feasibly recycled into other useful materials. However, specialised processes can neutralise asbestos fibres, transforming them into non-hazardous materials. These methods include high-temperature thermal and chemical treatments, which can break down asbestos fibres, vitrify them into glass, or turn them into ceramics or mineral wool.

However, despite these exciting recycling technologies, asbestos recycling is not widespread due to the high costs and complexities. As a result, the most common and regulated practice remains safe disposal in designated hazardous waste landfills.

Asbestos regulations in the UK

In the UK, asbestos waste is regulated under several key pieces of legislation. Here is a list of those that remain relevant and a link to their official sources:

RegulationOverviewKey ProvisionsJurisdictionOfficial Source Link
Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012Consolidates previous asbestos regulations and sets out requirements for managing asbestos in non-domestic properties.Duty to manage asbestos, requirements for surveys and risk assessments, licensing for removal, worker training.UK-wideControl of Asbestos Regulations 2012
Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985Initially banned blue and brown asbestos, with amendments in 1992 and 1999 extending the ban to white asbestos.Prohibition of importation, supply, and use of asbestos.UK-wideAsbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985
Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974Provides a framework for ensuring workplace health and safety, including hazardous substances like asbestos.Employers’ duty to ensure health, safety, and welfare of employees.UK-wideHealth and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005Governs the handling, transport, and disposal of hazardous waste, including asbestos.Requirements for consignment notes and disposal at licensed facilities.England and WalesHazardous Waste Regulations 2005
Special Waste Regulations 1996 (Amended 2004)Similar to the Hazardous Waste Regulations, governing hazardous waste disposal, including asbestos.Requirements for consignment notes and disposal at licensed facilities.ScotlandSpecial Waste Regulations 1996
Hazardous Waste Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005Governs the handling, transport, and disposal of hazardous waste, including asbestos.Requirements for consignment notes and disposal at licensed facilities.Northern IrelandHazardous Waste Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005

To understand how these fit within a wider waste management context, see our detailed articles on UK waste regulations and devolved waste policies and regulations.

Asbestos in waste – FAQs

Our business waste experts answer commonly asked questions on asbestos in waste in the UK.

Why was asbestos banned?

Asbestos was banned due to its severe health risks. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious respiratory diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. As evidence of these dangers grew, many countries implemented bans or strict regulations to protect public health.

When was asbestos banned?

The Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations banned blue and brown asbestos (crocidolite and amosite) in 1985. White asbestos (chrysotile) was later banned in 1999, with a complete prohibition on the importation, supply, and use of all types of asbestos coming into effect at this time.

How much could you save?

Start saving now

If you have multiple properties, please put post code of your head office.