It is illegal to dump flares at sea, illegal to dump them on land and illegal to let them off in anything other than an emergency.
Ultimately the responsibility for the safe disposal of time expired flares rests with their owner. The eventual disposal of TEP must become part of your buying decision and who you buy them from.
For the RYA's guidance on what you may carry to initiate a distress call see the page on Calling for help.
The issue of flare disposal has been a source of frustration for recreational boaters since the carriage and storage regulations changed and the MoD Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Teams routine collection service from HM Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCC) and other collection points was withdrawn.
Recreational boaters can contact their nearest Licensed HM Coastguard Disposal Site who will advise if they can help. However, from 31 December 2022, the current HM Coastguard scheme will end. You can find your nearest registered disposal point using the Environmental Facilities Map on The Green Blue website.
Please do not turn up at HM Coastguard premises without prior agreement. The majority of coastguard locations are not licensed and you will be turned away.
If you have out-of-date flares and need to arrange their safe disposal, you should contact the supplier you bought them from to see if they will take them back. Clearly this is not possible if you buy them online and you should bear this in mind.
A local life raft service agent may also be able to take your out-of-date flares from you as they deal with the disposal of such items on a regular basis.
It is also worth checking if your local port or marina will accept them; they may have disposal arrangements.
Leaving (abandoning) expired flares at police and fire stations amounts to illegal dumping and is potentially a criminal offence. The police and fire & rescue service are not ‘refuse collection and disposal agencies’ and they do not have any licensed sites or facilities to dispose of these items.
TEP are hazardous goods not hazardous waste, there is therefore no requirement for councils to provide facilities for disposal, however some may, and you should check with your local authority.
There are specialist hazardous waste disposal companies that will dispose of your unwanted TEP, but there will be a cost for such a service. Again, you should keep this in mind if ordering flares online.
The regulations concerning transportation apply to places of work and places in public use, but they do not apply to individuals, so you can legally put TEP in your car and drive them to a recognised disposal site.
Anyone finding old flares on the shore should not touch them but dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.