What are the categories of empty uncleaned packages and what common problems occur?

This issue causes problems out of proportion to the risk it presents. The parts of ADR that are especially relevant are, and (documentation). The specific exemption in is qualified by the condition "if adequate measures have been taken to nullify any hazard" and is not available for classes 1 and 7.

Empty uncleaned packaging may be regarded as coming in two "categories"

  • Ordinarily emptied, that is  "as empty as practically possible", but with no other measure taken
  • Emptied and "hazards nullified"  (the criterion)

In the first case, the goods are still dangerous goods, but are assigned to Transport Category (TC) 4 and any load is thus a "small load" (except for the unusual situation where Transport Category  0 goods are involved).

In the second case, the packaging will have to be cleaned or treated in some way to nullify all hazards. If that is achieved then the goods to be transported are no longer dangerous and ADR (and hence the regulations) will not apply.   For many substances (such as  fuels and solvents) this will not be easy and for that reason will often not be done. This distinction may be important. For example, receptacles with remains of flammable solvents will still present a hazard, but, subject to having been "emptied", are assigned to TC4.

In practice, returned packaging (such as IBCs and drums) is often collected as part of a delivery round and the driver will be appropriately trained and the vehicle marked and equipped in the ordinary way.  There are some special cases, which will not be seen very often, which are mentioned in the note below

Two common activities need highlighting

  • Specialist drum /IBC recovery operations.  In this case packaging is collected for the specific purpose of reclamation. The carrier may treat the goods as TC 4 and only the small load obligations will apply. As a general rule this should be achievable without great difficulty. 

Class 2 (compressed and liquefied gases). In ordinary service these items are not emptied in any conventional way and it would be difficult (and possibly dangerous without specialist equipment) to determine residual contents.

The main operators in this field do not seek to utilise the small load exemptions under TC4 for empty packaging and follow most of the same conditions of carriage as for full cylinders. The only difference is that gas cylinders which are nominally empty or contain some small quantity of residue should be transported under the requirements of ADR and state "EMPTY PACKAGING, 2" or "EMPTY RECEPTACLE, 2' on the documentation. . Enforcement officers should also take this view (that is, that the cylinders cannot be regarded as TC4).

If the consignor/consignee declares that a receptacle is faulty then it is the responsibility of the consignee/consignor to judge how faulty the receptacle is and whether a Salvage Pressure Receptacle is required. This should be used when the original receptacle is damaged, defective or leaking. If in doubt, the enterprise should not accept it for transport.

Note: Gases of Groups A (asphyxiant) and O (oxidising) are exempt under ADR if the gas pressure is less than 200kPa (2 Bar) at 200oC.

Note: In many cases (especially carriage by users such as mobile mechanics, welders etc) the small load exemptions will apply and care needs to be taken to recognise how the load is calculated.

Any concerns should be itemised on the document given to the driver and followed up if necessary with the consignor or carrier as needed (via CEMHD Unit 4). Inspectors contemplating enforcement action in cases where this advice is not appropriate or has not been followed are advised to consider risk and the intricacies of the requirements. In particular, the question of whether hazards have been nullified is not always going to be easy.

A UK derogation (see Dangerous Goods: Approved Derogations and Transitional Provisions") exempts from the documentary requirements of ADR, loads which are within the small load thresholds (see Main exemptions).  ADR states that for liquids, the threshold is the total quantity of dangerous goods contained in litres, and for compressed gases the threshold is the water capacity of the receptacle in litres.

Thus for most cases of empty uncleaned packaging, the small load exemptions (from some of the requirements) will apply. Thus no documentation would be required for GB domestic transport. The key remaining requirements are as follows:

  • Train the driver at least to "general " standards (ADR 8.2.3 and 1.3)
  • Carry one 2 kg fire extinguisher
  • Ensure stowage complies with 7.5.7 (this would be needed under other road safety legislation anyway)

There is no need to display orange plates, though it would not be an offence to do so. Some trade associations advise their members to display orange plates whenever the vehicle is carrying dangerous goods, but the small load exemptions may still apply.

Adopting this approach should ensure good standards, and compliance with almost any interpretation of the requirements, and minimise the stopping of what should be low risk vehicles for ADR reasons alone.

Note: Special cases

Empty uncleaned former inner packagings can present some special issues in respect of compliance with the packaging provisions:

  • Aerosols (UN 1950) These are usually carried originally as Limited Quantity Packages,  but waste (including empty uncleaned)  aerosols is subject to special provision SP327
  • Paint (UN 1263) Empty uncleaned tins are often collected at Household Waste Recovery facilities and can be shipped under special provision 650
  • Lighters (UN 1057) carried as waste are subject to the requirements of special provision 654

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Updated 2022-01-10