Reduce waste and maximise resources

Reducing business waste avoids expensive disposal costs and lowers greenhouse gas emissions.

SMEs can do this by preventing waste from going to landfill sites and encouraging more recycling and reuse.

Contents

  1. Benefit from reducing waste
  2. Comply with your legal obligations for waste
  3. Get started with a waste audit
  4. Make a plan to reduce waste
  5. Make quick wins with low cost actions
  6. Make longer term wins by reducing waste
  7. Find finance and support

Benefit from reducing waste

The production, use and disposal of materials and products has a large carbon footprint.

According to government figures , waste management alone is estimated to have been responsible for around 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK in 2021.

By reducing waste you can:

  • save on expensive landfill fees
  • cut the emissions associated with your business
  • enhance your reputation among customers and staff

You may also be able to sell your waste. A growing number of companies offer to buy waste such as paper or plastic.

Do an internet search to find out which companies buy waste near you.

Check to see if they are a registered buyer at GOV.UK.

Comply with your legal obligations for waste

You must follow the rules and regulations around waste disposal to avoid fines and legal repercussions.

Find out about three important legal obligations for waste. Visit ‘Carbon emissions and the law’ to find out about other waste-related regulations.

Waste hierarchy

Businesses should adopt the waste hierarchy to maximise the use of materials and products before they become waste.

The waste hierarchy gives priority to preparing waste for reuse, then recycling and recovery and last of all disposal, for example landfill.

The waste hierarchy: stage 1 prevention, stage 2 preparing for re-use, stage 3 recycling, stage 4 other recovery, stage 5 disposal

The waste hierarchy

Duty of Care

You must fulfil your legal ‘Duty of Care‘ obligations.

These include:

  • storing waste safely
  • ensuring disposal isn’t harming the environment
  • completing waste transfer notes for any transfer of waste and retain a copy of this note for 2 years

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.

Plastic Packaging Tax

You should plan to keep improving your waste operations as government waste regulations will continue to tighten.

The Resources and Waste Strategy for England aims to:

  • make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025
  • eliminate food waste to landfills by 2030
  • eliminate all avoidable waste by 2050

Legislation such as the Plastic Packaging Tax is one example of how the government will meet these goals.

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

You can avoid paying Landfill Tax Rates if you recycle your waste instead of sending it to landfill.

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.

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.  

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.

Get started with a waste audit

Get started with a waste audit to measure the waste your business generates.

As with other actions such as saving energy, it can make sense to appoint responsibility to a certain job role or team. Find out more about how to get your staff engaged.

Walk around your premises to identify if unnecessary waste is being generated.

Pay attention to:

  • raw materials – are water, energy or office supplies being used efficiently?
  • recycling – are paper, glass, food, plastic and metal (foil, food and drink cans, etc.) being recycled?
  • packaging – is product packaging necessary, reusable or recyclable?
  • waste storage – are materials being stored, separated and transported correctly?
  • waste that comes to you from suppliers – can suppliers replace plastic packaging with reusable or recyclable materials?

You must separate materials for collection or disposal in accordance with:

  • the contract with your waste operator
  • local arrangements for recycling collection

Visit Wrap’s Business of Recycling website for a waste calculator tool to see how much waste a business generates and how recycling can help save money.

Make a plan to reduce waste

Create an action plan to tackle your carbon emission hotspots. This will help you to reduce costs and your carbon footprint.

Start with the major sources of:

  • wasted raw materials
  • packaging
  • liquid wastes

Decide on your priorities depending on the:

  • the largest amounts of waste
  • the waste with the highest value or associated costs
  • hazardous wastes

Focus on where you can:

  • save the most money
  • access practical advice to make changes
  • make immediate savings on no-cost and low-cost wins

Make quick wins with waste

1. Reduce costs with bin collection

Finding out about the amount and type of waste that is generated in each area can help you understand:

  • the volume of the bins you should use
  • the number of bins you need
  • how full bins are when they are collected
  • how often they are being emptied (you can do this by checking your waste transfer notes and invoices)

You can ask for bins to be removed from your service contract or reduce the frequency of collection. This may mean that you can renegotiate your contract costs.

2. Set up a basic recycling programme

You usually have to pay more to dispose of mixed general waste than sorted recyclables.

Set up a basic recycling programme

  • using colour-coded bins – make each recycling option as clear as possible
  • making bins easily accessible to all employees
  • removing ‘general waste’ bins and personal bins under desks
  • repairing or refurbishing items that are still functional
  • donating or selling unwanted items

3. Produce a paper policy

Office paper is a major purchasing and disposal cost for most organisations.

Reduce paper waste by:

  • using digital documents instead of paper
  • printing on both sides of the paper and re-using paper products
  • introducing ‘hold print’ so your system only prints if an identity card is scanned or a password is entered at the printer
  • using lower weight paper

4. Review stock control processes

Good stock control procedures help reduce waste costs. Ensure that you use:

  • in bulk and refillable containers
  • concentrated cleaning products

You will also be able to see when you have too much stock. This is particularly useful for perishable products with a short shelf-life.

5. Take part in the ‘circular economy’

One of the fastest ways to reduce waste and your carbon footprint, is to use the products you already have or that are available to you through your community as efficiently as possible. By engaging in the circular economy you can repair, reuse and share products, extending their lifetimes and maximising their use

According to the Circularity Gap Report a shift to reuse could save up to 40 percent of the emissions caused by the creation and use of consumer products.

This could involve offering:

  • rentals for infrequently used products
  • repair services
  • resale programs for products that can be refurbished

Visit the Ellen Macarthur Foundation for examples of circular economy business models and case studies.

6. Reduce water waste

You can reduce waste water by:

  • fitting flush control to urinals
  • repairing all dripping taps and leaks
  • fitting percussion taps to turn off water automatically in washrooms
  • replacing bottled water with water coolers
  • using dishwashers only on full loads

Make longer term wins by reducing waste

1. Design for Disassembly (DfD) 

One of the main obstacles to recycling is the difficulty in separating materials and components.

Designing for disassembly, or modular design, means creating products that are easy to dismantle at the end of their life cycle. This facilitates recycling and reducing waste.

DfD involves using:

  • modular components so that it is easy to break down products into smaller components
  • snap-fit or easily detachable connections
  • standardised fasteners
  • as little glue as possible

2. Invest in waste reducing products

Take other steps to reduce waste, such as:

  • buying a shredder or compactor to reduce the volume of your waste
  • investing in a hot composter to decompose food waste

3. Build a greener supply chain to reduce waste

Source products and services from green suppliers with a track record of low carbon operations, where possible.

Encourage your suppliers to:

  • remove unnecessary packaging or replace it with reusable, recyclable or biodegradable materials
  • find lower carbon alternatives for materials and product formulas
  • source traceable and certified sustainable commodities
  • revise their delivery and distribution logistics

Taking steps to reduce waste up and down the supply chain will help you become a ‘net-zero ready’ supplier.

4. Design green, circular products and services

Consider how you can design and make the products and services you sell in a way that minimises waste and reduces carbon.

You can do this by considering choices that you control across the whole life-cycle of the products and services you offer.

For example, you could:

  • remove unnecessary packaging or replace it with reusable, recyclable or biodegradable materials
  • find lower carbon alternatives for materials and product formulas
  • optimise processes to reduce wastage, including by minimising production errors
  • use recycled or reused materials and components in your products
  • design your products for longer use
  • design your products to minimise material use, lightweighting products where possible
  • consider servitisation models, including options to take back and repair products, or offer them on a rental basis

Find finance and support

Find guidance on waste and recycling for your region:

Across the UK:  

You can also use GOV.UK’s fund listing service to find programmes that apply to your business.

Wales:

Northern Ireland:

Scotland:

Visit our finance and support page to find out about more green business grant programmes in your region.

Relevant links:

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