Find out about carbon emissions and the law

‘Carbon emissions’ is commonly used to refer to all the different greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global warming.

You may need to follow certain laws and regulations about carbon emissions depending on:

– where you are in the UK
– the size of your business
– the sector you’re working in

When you must measure and report carbon emissions

You don’t normally have to measure and report carbon emissions if you are a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).

However, SMEs may be required to measure and report emissions if they are:

  • a quoted business
  • bidding for a central government contract
  • defined differently under various legislation according to the number of employees, financial turnover or balance sheets

There can be benefits to your organisation in measuring and reporting emissions, even if you are not legally required to do so.

Benefits include:

  • identifying which of your business activities use a lot of energy so you can reduce energy and resource use and reduce costs
  • meeting customer requests for information on your greenhouse gas emissions
  • being ready as measuring and reporting emissions is becoming an increasingly important element in the supplier procurement process

Providing sustainability information 

You may be asked for sustainability information by the public sector and any large businesses that you supply.

Public sector organisations and large businesses might ask for this so they can account for their greenhouse gas emissions in their annual reports.

As an SME, you might have to provide the following to access some supply chains:

  • Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP): a document that summarises your current emissions and your plans to reduce these
  • Net Zero Commitment: a public commitment (for example, published on your company website) to achieve net zero by 2050 or earlier

For example, businesses applying for government contracts of over £5 million per year must now have a Carbon Reduction Plan.

This could affect your business if you are involved in this size of contract.

Policies and regulations to reduce emissions 

The UK government’s ‘Powering up Britain’ strategy includes a list of policies to help the UK meet its legally-binding target of net zero by 2050. Some of these policies have implications for SMEs. 

For example, policies that may affect your business include:

Find out more about policies that could affect your business by talking to a trade association, the Federation of Small Businesses or your local Chamber of Commerce.

Waste rules and regulations

Duty of Care

Duty of Care regulations require all businesses producing or dealing with waste to ensure that all waste is managed correctly throughout its complete journey to disposal or recovery.

Your obligations include:

  • sorting and storing waste safely
  • ensuring disposal isn’t harming the environment
  • completing waste transfer notes

From April 2025, all organisations that produce, collect or treat waste will need to use the new digital waste tracking system instead of waste transfer notes.

Ensure that waste collections are only carried out by an organisation which is registered to dispose of waste (check this via the Environment Agency’s register).

Keep records of each load of waste moved off their premises for 2 years (this should be a Waste Transfer Note or a document with the same information, such as an invoice provided by the waste carrier).

For more information, visit GOV.UK’s Waste duty of care code of practice

Plastic Packaging Tax

You will need to pay Plastic Packaging Tax if you import or manufacture 10 tonnes or more of plastic packaging that contain less than 30% recycled plastic.

Extended Producer Responsibility rules now require companies to collect data on their plastic packaging.

Landfill Tax

Any businesses that use a landfill need to pay the Landfill Tax.

The rates are set by the government and go up every year. In 2024, the cost is £103.70 per tonne for most types of waste in England and Northern Ireland.

From April 2025, the tax will rise to £126.15 per tonne and the lower rate will increase to £4.05 per tonne.

Simpler Recycling

The ‘Simpler Recycling’ reforms mean all businesses in England must have separate food waste collections set up by 31st March 2025.

Businesses in England will also have to separate dry recyclable materials (except plastic film) from non-recycled (residual) waste by 31st March 2025.

This list will include plastic film and flexibles by 31 March 2027.

The dry recyclable materials can be mixed if preferred to reduce the number of bins needed.

You have until 31st March 2027 if you’re a business with fewer than ten full-time employees.

Hazardous Waste

You must make sure hazardous waste produced or handled by your business does not cause harm or damage.  Check what you need to do with your national waste regulator.  

Visit GOV.UK’s ‘How to classify different types of waste’ to check if waste is hazardous.

You will need to contact a specialist waste company to safely collect, transport and dispose of hazardous waste.

For questions about hazardous waste in England, contact the Environment Agency if you have any questions about hazardous waste. Check what you need to do in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales by clicking on the links.

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE Directive)

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) aims to increase reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery of electrical and electronic equipment.

Related links

Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census
Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census