Waste and recycling

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.


  1. Benefit from reducing waste
  2. Compare waste vs recycling costs
  3. How to reduce waste
  4. Switch to products that can be resold, rented or repaired
  5. Design for disassembly
  6. Find local business grants and schemes

Benefit from reducing waste

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

This has reduced steadily in recent years as businesses have cut down on waste and recycled more.

By reducing waste you can:

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

Save time and money

By changing operations to prevent waste from entering the disposal system you will also benefit from reducing costs necessary to fulfil your legal ‘Duty of Care’ obligations.

These include:

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

Reusing products or eliminating waste from your business activities can therefore save significant amounts of time and money.

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.

Get ahead of future regulations

It is expected that the government will continue to tighten waste regulations in line with its Resources and Waste Strategy.

This strategy 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.

It requires you to pay 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.

By cutting waste from your business operations now, you are more likely to stay in line with future policy changes.

Compare waste vs recycling costs

In general it is more expensive to dispose of mixed general waste than it is to dispose of sorted recyclables.

If your waste can be recycled instead of sent to the landfill, it avoids Landfill Tax Rates.

These are set by the government and go up every year. In 2022 it costs £98.60 per tonne for most types of waste.

Recyclables are also less expensive to process at waste transfer stations.

Sample prices per tonne include:

  • mixed general waste – £150 to £250
  • food waste – £70
  • dry mixed recyclables – £50
  • mixed glass – £12
  • cardboard and paper – free

These costs are paid by your waste management company but will be passed onto you through their fees.

How to reduce waste

Once you’ve calculated the benefits to your business it makes sense to start with simple steps to take action.

As with other actions such as saving energy, it can make sense to appoint responsibility to a certain job role or team.

Find out how to get your staff engaged in your carbon reduction plan.

Get started with a waste audit

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? If so, is it 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?

It is your business’s responsibility to separate materials for collection or disposal in accordance with the contract with your waste operator or local arrangements for recycling collection.

Set up a recycling programme

You can set up a basic recycling programme by:

  • 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

Switch to products that can be resold, rented or repaired

One of the fastest ways to reduce waste is to shift to ‘circular economy’ products that can be used by multiple customers.

This could involve offering:

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

It is estimated that less than 10 percent of the global economy is currently circular.

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.

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

Design for disassembly

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

Designing for disassembly, or modular design, means products are easy to take apart for repair, replace, recycle or reuse.

This reduces labour costs and saves time and effort spent on recycling and disassembly for product repair, upgrade and refurbishment.

From the start of the process, design products that:

  • have a simple and intuitive structure
  • have the fewest possible parts
  • are easily separable into recyclable components if they must be discarded
  • use common and similar fasteners that only need a few standard tools to disassemble
  • use screws as they are quicker to unfasten than nuts and bolts
  • do not contain glue, as far as this is possible

Find local business grants and schemes

Use our finance and support page to find green business grant programmes in your region.

Some are designed to help SMEs reduce waste and offer greener products.

They can also offer:

  • grants with no payback requirement
  • matching funds up to a total amount or percentage of costs
  • loans with low or no interest
  • free expertise for energy assessments

Funding is dependent on the size of your business and where it’s located.

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