Guide to commercial waste disposal and recycling for small businesses

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Being a small business you may not generate nearly as much commercial waste as a much larger company, yet you are still responsible for disposing of your waste correctly and in the safest and most environmentally-friendly way.

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    Many questions will spring to mind when dealing with your commercial waste, such as the costs associated with its disposal, and what if I produce multiple types of waste? Will it be more costly to separate out the waste into things that can and cannot be recycled? Will I then need to pay for separate waste disposal and recycling services?

    In this guide, we answer some of the most common questions you may have as a small business owner needing to safely dispose of your commercial waste.

    Table of contents →
    What is classed as commercial waste in the UK?
    Do you create hazardous commercial waste?
    Do you produce food waste?
    Local council commercial waste services
    Using a private commercial waste disposal company
    Using both council and commercial services
    GDPR concerns
    How much does commercial waste collection cost?

    We will also look at whether it is better or more cost-effective to use your local council waste disposal services or go with a private commercial waste disposal provider that may be able to take waste materials that your local council will not accept. 

    What is classed as commercial waste in the UK?

    According to the UK Government, what counts as business waste is any waste that comes from a commercial activity. If you use part of your home to run your business then any waste from that part is business waste.

    Business waste also includes any waste that comes from:

    • construction
    • demolition
    • industry
    • agriculture

    So this means that even if you run a small business from home, if you generate any sort of waste as a result of your business activity, then you need to treat it as commercial waste and you have a responsibility to dispose of it appropriately in accordance with the current guidelines.

    Do you create hazardous commercial waste?

    Depending on your industry you may produce waste that is classed as hazardous. This can be hazardous materials or the substances that it contains that can be harmful to humans or the environment. 

    Examples of hazardous waste include:

    • asbestos
    • chemicals, such as brake fluid or print toner
    • batteries
    • solvents
    • pesticides
    • oils (except edible ones), such as car oil
    • equipment containing ozone-depleting substances, like fridges
    • hazardous waste containers

    There is guidance about the classification and storage of hazardous materials on the Government website, but when it comes to the safe disposal of hazardous materials you have a duty of care to use government authorised businesses to collect, recycle or dispose of your hazardous waste.

    Do you produce food waste?

    Small cafes, restaurants and takeaways will produce food waste that includes raw and cooked foods, inedible parts of food such as meat bones, leaves, stalks, peelings, fruit cores tea leaves, coffee grounds etc. that all need to be safely disposed of.

    Most local councils now run food waste collection services to domestic and commercial premises where food waste is collected and taken to a local Anaerobic Digestion plant to be processed into energy and fertiliser for agricultural use. 

    Check to see if your council offers food collection services to local businesses. If not, you will need to look at working with a private food waste collection company to safely dispose of your food waste to prevent it from going to the landfill.

    Local council commercial waste services

    For a small business, it may be more cost-effective to use your local council waste disposal services to deal with your commercial waste, but this will depend on whether or not they are equipped to handle the type of commercial waste that your business creates.

    You can check with your local government authority where your business is based to find out what commercial waste they will accept. Most council-run commercial waste services will accept everyday recyclable materials such as glass, metal, plastic, paper and cardboard, but you need to make sure and not just assume they do. 

    Some council-run commercial waste services will also require you to separate your waste to make it easier for them to collect and recycle. In most cases, they will be able to supply you with separate collection bins to make it easier for you to separate your waste. There may or may not be a small charge for the collection bins depending on the service they offer. 

    The pros of using your local council services:

    • You may already be familiar with their services if you live in the same area as your business is based
    • It can often be cheaper to use your local council services than a commercial provider 
    • If you run a home-based business you can use the same provider for your commercial and domestic waste

    The cons of using your local council services:

    • Not all commercial waste collections are run by the council but are tendered out to third-party providers that can change frequently and may change what type of waste they collect 
    • Commercial waste isn’t their specialism so they may not be able to take certain waste materials

    Using a private commercial waste disposal company

    Many commercial waste companies run a nationwide service and have lots of regional disposal sites meaning that your commercial waste may not need to clock up a lot of miles before it reaches its final destination. 

    Unlike your local council-run service where commercial waste is only a tiny fraction of the many services they provide, choosing a private waste collection company means you will get a more dedicated, efficient service.

    Most private commercial waste collection companies can handle more of your commercial waste materials without you having to separate your recyclable materials from your non-recyclable waste. This can save you a lot of time and effort as the separation will be done at their waste disposal site as part of their service to you.

    The pros of using a private commercial waste disposal company:

    • You get a specialist service that is designed to handle commercial waste collection and disposal
    • You can have peace of mind when choosing a company with industry-leading services
    • More flexible collection schedules, often giving you an on-demand option when you need it most
    • Most services will accept recyclable and non-recyclable waste in one collection

    The cons of using a private commercial waste disposal company:

    • Charges can vary depending on your business type or load weight
    • Can be more costly than using your local council-run disposal services
    • May ask you to commit to a service contract with or without regular service fees regardless of how much waste they collect or how often they collect 

    A lot of the leading private commercial waste disposal companies carry a zero-landfill policy that means 100% of the commercial waste they handle will be recycled and reused through various downstream partners. 

    When choosing a private company to work with, check to see that they have a zero-landfill policy so you know that you will be doing your best to reduce your businesses carbon footprint and helping to save the environment.

    Using both council and commercial services

    There may be a benefit to you using a mix of both services. For example, should you be having a clear-out and need a one-off collection of green waste or bulky items, then a quick call to your local council to arrange a collection as and when you need one is maybe your best option.

    However, if your business produces a consistent amount of waste that needs dealing with regularly, then using a private waste collection company may be more convenient. Also, a private dedicated company is more able to tailor their services to suit your unique business needs. They will also take your dry mixed recycling saving you having to separate it yourself.

    No matter which service you choose to go with, recycling your commercial waste works in the same way as the recycling of your general domestic waste. You can arrange for either a one-off collection from your local council-run service or a private company or you can arrange for a service to be provided to you on an ongoing basis.

    GDPR concerns

    No matter how large or small your business, you still have a duty of care towards keeping your businesses sensitive data safe and protected from the risks of a data breach.

    This means that if you produce a lot of paperwork as part of your business processes that contain confidential customer, business, personal or financial information, you cannot simply dispose of it through your regular local authority waste collection.

    Even if you run a very small business or have a home-based operation, you still need to meet your compliance duties under the current Data Protection Act and make sure you dispose of any confidential paperwork in a secure way to prevent a data breach.

    Should you not meet with your compliance responsibilities, HMRC can issue you with very severe financial penalties or even close your business down entirely if the data breach was severe and was caused by your negligence. 

    When you need to dispose of your redundant business paperwork it makes sense to look at using a professional business waste disposal company that offers services such as secure shredding of all your sensitive paperwork. 

    The shredded paper is then recycled into paper pulp that is used to make new paper-based products, such as new paper, cardboard and tissues. 

    These guidelines also apply when you are disposing of old data-bearing electronic devices, such as computer hard-drives, memory sticks, storage cards and discs. Many leading secure disposal companies will offer data destruction services where your data-bearing devices are shredded to obliterate the data and make the data unrecoverable.

    The raw materials created from the shredding process will them be sorted and melted down to be reused to make new components or other products.

    A thought about Certificates of Destruction
    You will be issued with an official Certificate of Destruction that details the time, date, location and content destroyed and the certificate will be signed by the officer supervising the destruction of your paperwork.

    Should you ever be audited, your certificate of destruction will prove your chain of custody and compliance with GDPR.

    How much does commercial waste collection cost?

    Costs can vary depending on the size and type of your business and the amount of waste you produce. If you choose to go with your local council-run commercial waste collection service, the costs can vary from region to region, so discuss your needs with your local council refuse service section to find out what they charge. 

    If your local council uses third-party commercial waste collection services, then they may charge a little more for their collections than a council that runs an in-house service as part of their refuse collection service. 

    Most local council commercial waste services will offer you a collection option that is most suited to your type and size of business. For example, they may offer:

    • A waste collection sack suitable for a small home-based business 
    • An 1100 litre bin to collect general non-recyclable business waste 
    • An 1100 litre recycling bin for dry recyclable materials such as plastic, metal and cardboard

    Charges for these options can be as cheap as £2.00 or £3.00 for a collection sack depending on what it costs your local council to collect and process your commercial waste. 

    Let’s take a look at the current top three private commercial waste collection services in the UK and what they offer:

    CompanyTypes of waste takenCollection bin sizes (LTR)Cost From / Rough Example
    Biffa: Operating across 195 locations across the UKBatteries, cardboard, construction, electrical, food, general, glass, hazardous, metal, mixed recycling, organic, paper, plastic, wood 120, 240, 660, 1100120 litre bin (2 to 3 sacks) from £180 per year for hire and weekly collection.  
    Business Waste: Operates nationwide and services all major citiesCardboard, clinical, confidential, construction, food, general, glass, hazardous, mixed recycling, paper, plastic, sanitary 120, 240, 360, 660, 1100120 litre bin (2 to 3 sacks) from £180 per year for hire and weekly collection.
    Cheaper Waste: Minimal landfill policy, operates nationwide Cardboard, clinical, confidential, general, glass, hazardous, mixed recycling 120, 240, 360, 660, 1100120 litre bin (2 to 3 sacks) from £180 per year for hire and weekly collection.

    Bin hire for a small business will start from £40 per year. On top of your bin hire costs you will also incur waste transfer costs of between £12 and £250 per tonne. This involves the transport of your rubbish to a local waste transfer depot where your waste will be sorted into recyclable material and non-recyclable material. The sorted waste will then go onto either the landfill or a recycling plant.

    Waste transfer costs are covered within your waste management company fees, along with admin costs. To encourage recycling a £91.35 per tonne landfill tax also applies for all UK businesses from 2020. Below is a rough guide of what you could expect to pay each year:

    Average bin hire price by sizeRough annual price for weekly collection 
    120 litres = 2 to 3 sacks, from £40 per year120 litres = 2 to 3 sacks, annual cost £140
    240 litres = 3 to 5 sacks, from £50 per year240 litres = 3 to 5 sacks, annual cost £255
    360 litres = 5 to 7 sacks, from £80 per year360 litres =  5 to 7 sacks, annual cost £370
    660 litres = 10 to 12 sacks, from £150 per year660 litres = 10 to 12 sacks, annual cost £650
    1,100 litres = 15 to 20 sacks, from £250 per year1,100 litres = 15 to 20 sacks, annual cost £1,000

    When choosing to use one of the larger nationwide commercial waste collection and disposal services it will pay you to get a quote from each of them. This way you will know which of the services will be able to take all of your commercial waste and what’s included in their services.

    These services are best suited to businesses that produce a steady amount of commercial waste that you don’t want to build up and cause any issues. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you talk to each company and check if they offer a free waste audit. Biffa offers this and it is a handy tool that allows you to better understand how to manage your commercial waste.