Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Reduce, reuse and recycle your business waste

With the cost of goods and materials rising, using resources efficiently and reducing your business' waste makes good financial sense. It's also better for the environment.

The cost of sending waste to landfill is increasing, and so are the restrictions on what you can send. You can face penalties if you do not handle waste appropriately or have the right paperwork before it leaves your premises.

You can save money and make your business more efficient by focusing on how you reduce, reuse, recycle or recover your business waste, and how you deal with the waste that remains.

This guide explains your main options for dealing with your business waste and identifies some of the key areas you could focus on.

Additional resources

Watch our short video:

Good practice in an office

Your business can gain a number of benefits from reducing, reusing, recovering and recycling waste. However, remember that waste activities such as recycling and recovery use energy so your priority should be to reduce waste in the first place.

Comply with waste regulations

Businesses now face increased legal obligations for their waste. In some industries, the producers also have legal responsibility for the disposal of their products, such as packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and vehicles. Adopting better waste practices makes it easier to comply with existing regulations and enables you to be better prepared for any new legislation.

The penalties for failing to manage environmental risks properly can be substantial. You could experience damage to your reputation, disruption to your business, or you could be prosecuted or fined.

Save and make money

Your business can save money by using better waste management techniques. For example, you can:

  • reduce your costs for managing and handling your waste
  • spend less on buying goods and materials
  • reduce the amount of landfill tax that you pay by reducing the amount of waste you send to landfill.

You can often make these savings through little or no capital investment. They are not just one-off savings, but could save your business money year after year. Experience in the UK suggests that businesses across a range of industries can save 4 per cent of turnover by employing waste minimisation techniques.

Customers, employees and potential investors are becoming more aware of environmental responsibility and failure to take action could affect your business' reputation and profitability. You could attract new customers and win contracts by showing your business is environmentally responsible.

Environmental benefits

Reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering your waste also benefits the environment. For example:

  • producing recycled aluminium uses 5 per cent of the energy required to make it from raw material
  • recycling two glass bottles saves enough energy to boil water for five cups of tea
  • less waste going to landfill will reduce releases of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change
  • recovering energy from waste means less use of fossil fuels

Further information

Find your nearest waste site

You can save money if you manage your waste well and choose the best waste management options for your business.

You need to choose the best waste management options for dealing with each type of waste your business produces.

Waste management hierarchy

You should follow the waste management hierarchy when choosing a waste option.

The waste hierarchy can help you to choose the least environmentally damaging option:

  • Reduce - the most cost-effective option is to cut the amount of waste you produce in the first place. See the page in this guideline: Reducing waste
  • Reuse - products and materials can be reused by your own business or another organisation. See the page in this guideline: Reusing waste
  • Recycle and compost - these options ensure that benefit is still gained from goods and materials that have reached the end of their useful life. See the pages in this guideline: Treating and composting biodegradable waste, and Recycling waste.
  • Recover energy - some facilities use waste to generate energy or produce biofuel. See the page in this guideline: Recovering energy and producing fuel from waste
  • Dispose - the least sustainable option is to bury waste at landfill sites or burn it without recovering energy, as these do not lead to any benefit from the waste. See the page in this guideline: Disposing of waste.

In Northern Ireland you must declare on your waste transfer note or hazardous waste consignment note that you have applied the waste management hierarchy. For information about waste transfer and consignment notes:

Duty of Care - your waste responsibilities

Hazardous/special waste

When choosing a waste option for your business, you should consider:

  • what waste facilities are available near your business premises
  • the type of waste you have to dispose of
  • the cost or profit involved in dealing with your waste

You should select the best waste management option available as part of a co-ordinated plan to improve the way you deal with waste. Whichever waste management options you choose, you must comply with waste legislation.

Further information

NIEA: Waste hierarchy information

SEPA: Zero Waste

Northern Ireland: Wrap waste hierarchy tool

Resource Efficient Scotland

Find your nearest waste site

Resource Efficient Scotland has produced a series of free, online training modules for SMEs. The training will help develop the skills and knowledge needed to put in place effective resource efficiency measures in your business. They deal with energy, waste and water efficiency. You can work through them at your own speed, choosing the modules that are relevant to your business.

Resource Efficient Scotland: Green Champions Training

The NIEA has produced a short guide to the duty of care responsibilities including advice and information for waste producers, carriers and those accepting, storing and treating waste.

NIEA: Duty of Care - a short guide

The NIEA has produced a guidance that explains the reuse of materials, and when waste legislation does not apply.

NIEA: Regulatory Position Statement – Reuse of Material

SEPA has produced guidance on how the waste regulations apply to reuse of goods.

SEPA: Reuse Activities and Waste Regulation

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) has produced detailed guidance for the construction sector. This is free to download.

CECA: Waste classification and permitting in construction

Cutting the amount of waste your business has to handle is the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly method of dealing with waste.

There are a number of areas you could focus on:

  • Look for easy wins - seemingly trivial changes can produce significant savings, such as printing and photocopying double-sided, refilling printer cartridges, switching off lights and electrical equipment, and using rechargeable batteries.
  • Procure carefully - buy only what you need, control stock and streamline processes across departments. Buy equipment in bulk to reduce packaging and consider the product's durability and lifespan - replacing equipment less often will reduce the waste you create. See our guide on buying sustainable goods and services.
  • Review your processes - ensure that equipment and materials are used efficiently and packaging is kept to a minimum.
  • Product design - keep the amount of materials you use in products to a minimum. See our guide on eco-design for goods and services.
  • Packaging design and use - make sure you use as little packaging as possible to achieve an adequate level of protection for your products.
  • Use advice about resource efficiency from a range of organisations.

WRAP Northern Ireland

Resource Efficient Scotland

Adopting a strategic and systematic approach is the best way to achieve significant reductions in the amount of waste that your business produces.

You may be able to reuse materials and equipment in your own business or another organisation may be able to reuse your waste.

Reusing your own business waste can reduce your costs as you won't need to buy raw materials or pay to dispose of the waste. You may also be able to generate income from materials and goods that are valuable to another organisation.

Reusing waste in your business

The goods and materials you can reuse will depend on your type of business. Office-based businesses, for example, can:

  • refill toner and ink-jet cartridges
  • use waste paper as notepaper
  • use durable cups, mugs, glasses and cutlery rather than disposable alternatives
  • reuse envelopes and other packaging
  • donate used equipment and furniture to charities
  • use greywater recycling systems for your toilets.

Manufacturing businesses, for example, may be able to reuse packaging and off-cuts, and capture waste heat generated by manufacturing processes for heating or reuse elsewhere in production.

You should speak to your staff and ask them to 'think before they throw' as someone else may want to use their waste.

Reuse by other organisations

You can offer waste materials, second-hand products, end-of-line products and obsolete equipment to other organisations which can use them without alteration.

You could try business-to-business online waste exchanges which trade a wide range of used industrial materials and equipment. You may also be able to sell goods and materials on online auction sites.

Scrapstores may take some of your waste materials such as fabrics, plastics, paper and card. They can make use of scrap material for children's play activities and this will save you recycling costs.

My Green Directory: Scrapstores

Some charities will collect your waste items at their expense. Some are licensed to take electrical and electronic goods. Schools may take unwanted computers, electrical equipment and materials. In Kind Direct collects mostly end-of-line and second-hand products on behalf of various charities and schools. The Furniture Re-use Network is the co-ordinating body for 400 recycling and reuse charities.

Furniture reuse network

Websites such as Giving World Online connect businesses to charities and community projects that need donated goods and materials.

Giving World Online: Donations through a network of charities

Donating goods and materials to schools and charities can improve the image of your business and demonstrate your corporate social responsibility policy.

Comply with your waste responsibilities

You are responsible for making sure you comply with your waste responsibilities, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations.

Duty of Care - your waste responsibilities


The NIEA has produced a guidance that explains the reuse of materials, and when waste legislation does not apply.

NIEA: Regulatory Position Statement – Reuse of Material

SEPA has produced guidance on how the waste regulations apply to reuse of goods.

SEPA: Reuse Activities and Waste Regulation

Further information

In Kind Direct: Donating surplus goods to charity

Furniture Reuse Website: Donating furniture and electrical goods

WRAP: Reusable materials information

Resource Efficient Scotland: Construction materials exchange

WRAPNI: Industrial Symbiosis (NISP Network)

Recycling is the third-best waste-management option for your business, after reducing and reusing waste. It is less beneficial to the environment than reuse because energy and resources are needed to reprocess the waste before the materials can be used again. Even so, recycling is important because it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill and reduces the need to use new raw materials.

What you must recycle

You must comply with special requirements for recycling certain wastes, such as:

  • Batteries that contain harmful chemicals and metals - these are classified as hazardous waste. Batteries
  • Electrical and electronic equipment. WEEE regulations
  • Fridges and air-conditioning equipment containing f-gases or ozone-depleting substances. Ozone depleting substances and f-gases
  • End-of-life vehicles (ELVs) - you must send ELVs for dismantling and depollution, and recycle any component parts. End of life vehicles
  • Packaging - you must comply with certain requirements if you produce packaged products, or place packaging or packaged goods on the market. Packaging

You must comply with waste legislation if you are recycling or transporting waste.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland new regulations require businesses to segregate key materials for recycling.

You must separate:

  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Plastic
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Food waste

In Scotland you must separate food waste for collection if you are a food business, unless you qualify as a rual location or produce less than 5Kg of food waste per week.

In Northern Ireland if you are a food business then you must be prepared to present food waste for separate collection if you are a large producer, or be prepared to present food waste for collection by 1 April 2017 for small producers and Health and Social Care trusts.

You are a large producer if you regularly produce more than 50kg of food waste per week.

You are a small producer if you regularly produce between 5kg and 50kg of food waste per week.

Duty of Care - your waste responsibilities

NIEA: Regulatory position statement – Food Waste Guidance

Recycling good practice

Buy products that can be recycled. Only 7.5 per cent of all office waste, including paper, is recycled but 70 per cent could potentially be recycled.

Separate waste that can be recycled from other waste. See the page in this guideline: Separating and storing waste.

Check the cost of recycling. It could be much less than sending your waste for energy recovery or disposal. Find out if your local authority provides recycling collections at low or no cost.

Sell high-quality recyclable materials, for example construction materials. There are an increasing number of uses for recycled materials.

Waste exchanges such as letsrecycle.com give price information and quality specifications for a wide range of products. These can include compost, glass, metals, paper and board, plastics, textiles and wood.

Letsrecycle: Prices for recycled materials

You can get information and help with starting, or improving, recycling at work from:

SEPA and Resource Efficient Scotland: Segregating materials for recycling leaflet

WRAP Northern Ireland

Zero Waste Scotland

SEPA: Encourage your customers to recycle

Further information

Find your nearest waste site

WRAP: Resource efficiency for businesses

Resource Efficient Scotland: Maximising re-use on construction sites 

Your business may be able to treat waste biologically to produce a nutrient-rich material or biogas. If you produce biodegradable waste you can send it for recycling into compost.

You can treat biodegradable waste on an industrial scale by either composting or anaerobic digestion (AD). Composting is more suitable for fibrous materials. AD is more suitable for wet wastes and sludges that degrade easily.

If you treat food waste containing meat and fish, or other animal by-products, you must comply with strict rules.

Animal by-products regulations

Composting biodegradable waste

If your business produces biodegradable waste such as food, garden waste, paper and cardboard, you can send these for recycling into compost.

You must ensure that any composting business you give your waste to has the permits it needs to handle food and other biodegradable waste and to produce compost. You can get further advice from your environmental regulator.

Contact your environmental regulator

The cleaner the waste you send for composting, the higher the quality of compost and the greater the benefit for the environment. High-quality compost is used for gardening and farming. Low-quality compost is used for top soil to cover landfill sites.

Composting facilities on or close to farms provide farms with a less expensive fertiliser and cheaper power. Some farms and food firms are licensed to operate composting facilities and can earn extra income from this business.

In Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency and WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) have produced a quality protocol for making quality compost from different types of biowaste, such as food and garden plant waste. This protocol also applies in Northern Ireland. If you produce compost from biowaste by complying with the quality protocol it will no longer be classified as waste. This means it can be used without waste management controls such as transporting it using a waste carrier, or with a waste transfer note.

NIEA: End of Waste Regulations/Quality protocols-anaerobic digestate

In Scotland, SEPA has produced composting information.

SEPA: Composting

SEPA has produced guidance that explains when waste derived composts are fully recovered, and do not require waste regulatory control. This guidance replaces earlier guidance from 2004

 SEPA: Regulation of Outputs from Composting Processes

Anaerobic digestion of waste

AD can be used to treat food and similar wet organic wastes. It takes place in a closed container, excluding oxygen. It is clean and relatively odour-free. It produces a nutrient-rich solid material called digestate and biogas containing methane and CO2.

The biogas may need further processing before it can be burnt to produce electricity. Electricity that you produce can be used to power the plant or exported to the grid. Alternatively, it can be used as a transport fuel.

In Northern Ireland, the Environment Agency and WRAP have produced a quality protocol for anaerobic digestate. This protocol also applies in Northern Ireland. If you comply with the quality protocol, your waste will no longer be classified as waste, so it can be used without waste management controls.

The Environment Agency: Quality protocol for anaerobic digestate (PDF, 629K)

In Scotland, SEPA has produced guidance on the licensing of AD plants.

SEPA: Composting and anaerobic digestion plants (PDF, 120K)

SEPA has produced guidance that explains how they will regulate the use and handling of digestate outputs from the AD process.

SEPA: Regulation of Outputs from Anaerobic Digestion Processes

Spreading waste on land

You may also be able to reuse your waste, such as paper or sewage sludge, by spreading it on land. However, before you do this, you must check what restrictions apply and whether you need a waste management licence or registered exemption, or permission from the Divisional Veterinary Office in Northern Ireland or Animal Health in Scotland.

Landspreading waste

Further information

Association for Organics Recycling: Composting information

Friends of the Earth: Anaerobic digestion briefing

Northern Ireland

WRAP: Buying and using compost

NIEA: Quality protocols


SEPA: Composting information

You may be able to use your waste to recover energy or produce biofuel.

Recovering energy from waste

You can treat waste using thermal and non-thermal technology to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and produce heat, gas or electricity.

Energy-from-waste processes may produce waste by-products that need to be disposed of at landfill, such as ash or digestate.

The main technologies for producing energy-from-waste are:

  • anaerobic digestion (AD)
  • gasification
  • pyrolysis
  • incineration.

AD can produce energy on a small scale. It uses bacteria to break down organic matter without oxygen in specially made digesters. See the page in this guide on treating or composting biodegradable waste.

Gasification involves heating organic waste with a reduced amount of oxygen and/or steam. It produces a synthetic gas, known as syngas, which can be burned independently in a boiler, engine or gas turbine to produce electricity.

Pyrolysis is carried out in the total absence of oxygen. It also produces an energy-rich gas and solid residue. These can then be burned separately to produce electricity. In some pyrolysis processes, the gases are condensed into a liquid fuel.

Incineration involves burning organic material such as waste to produce electricity and heat. Conventional waste incineration plants use the heat produced to generate electricity using a steam turbine. In some cases it is also possible to use the left-over heat. The government is encouraging the development of such combined heat and power (CHP) plants which may be able to provide your business with a source of heat, where the necessary transmission infrastructure exists or can be installed at reasonable cost.

Other ways of recovering energy from waste include recovering methane and mechanical or biological treatment.

Some landfill sites recover methane which is produced naturally when biological waste breaks down in the absence of oxygen. It can be used to generate energy. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and contributes towards climate change if it is not captured.

Mechanical and biological treatment composting units can also produce solid recovered fuel (SRF). There are concerns over the toxicity of burning SRF, which the government is trying to address.

Producing biodiesel

You may be able to use waste to produce biofuel as an alternative to non-renewable fuels used for transport.

For information on permitting requirements.

Biofuels for transport

Further information

NIEA – Biodiesel Quality Protocol

SEPA: Energy from waste

SEPA: Guidance for small scale biodiesel manufacture

Disposing of waste at landfill sites or incinerating it without energy recovery are the least sustainable waste management options and you should only use them as a last resort.

Landfilling waste

Some types of waste are banned from landfill sites, including:

  • corrosive, explosive, oxidising, flammable or infectious wastes
  • tyres
  • liquid wastes
  • wastes with more than 6 per cent total organic content
  • automotive and industrial batteries
  • animal by-products, such as agricultural carcasses and uncooked meat products.

For most types of waste, landfill tax is £80 a tonne rising to £82.50 for 2015-16. Landfill tax for some inert or inactive wastes is £2.50 per tonne, rising to £2.60 for 2015-16. Waste contractors pass on these rising costs to the waste producer.

You must pre-treat waste before you send it to landfill. You also have a duty to ensure that your waste is disposed of legally. If you dump waste illegally, you could be fined or even sent to prison.

Duty of Care - your waste responsibilities

You can use the NetRegs e-learning tools to get a good overview of key issues. These tools are free to use and cover the essential points of each topic. They might be useful as a refresher course, or to make sure that staff have a good understanding of their environmental responsibilities.

  • Preventing pollution – a general guide
  • Duty of care
  • Sinks, drains and sewers
  • WEEE
  • Generating renewable energy

All are available at: NetRegs e-learning tools

Incinerating waste

If you send waste for incineration, make sure you use an operator authorised to accept your waste. If you incinerate waste on your premises, you must have appropriate authorisation from your environmental regulator.

Waste incineration

Further information

The NIEA has produced a guidance that explains the reuse of materials, and when waste legislation does not apply.

NIEA: Regulatory Position Statement – Reuse of Material

Find your nearest waste site

SEPA: Encourage your customers to recycle

You should separate waste materials into different types (paper and cardboard, plastics, metals, etc) for storage, transport and recycling. You should store your waste securely in sealed, labelled containers ready for recycling or disposal.

You should check whether you need a permit or exemption if you are storing your own waste for recycling or disposal. See the page on how to store waste correctly in our guide: Duty of Care - your waste responsibilities

Check if you have hazardous/special waste

Hazardous/special waste may be harmful to human health or the environment. It is not usually suitable for in-house recycling, as there are strict controls on how you can store, transport and process it.

Hazardous/special waste

Prevent pollution during storage and transport

You must prevent waste from escaping and causing pollution. Take steps to prevent:

  • leaks from storage containers and tanks
  • wind-blown litter
  • waste escaping during transport
  • leaks from waste processing machinery, for example hydraulic oils from waste compactors.

Be aware that some materials you store for recycling can contaminate land and you could be responsible for clean up costs. For example, poorly handled fluorescent tubes could smash, spreading mercury across your site.

Pollution incident response planning

Environmental damage

Separating and storing waste

Store waste in areas that can contain a leak or spill and are isolated from surface water drainage systems.

Label containment areas or bins for different materials and activities. Consider using colour coding for quick identification, eg red for hazardous waste and green for glass.

Do not mix any hazardous wastes with other waste or you will need to dispose of all of it as hazardous waste.

If possible, remove contaminants such as metal staples or adhesive tape from materials before recycling. This could make your materials more valuable as they will require less treatment.

Separate and store plastics according to their grade and type. The three most common types of recyclable plastic are:

  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • high density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

WRAP: Types of plastic in packaging

You will need to agree with your waste management contractor how you separate your waste for collection.

Compacting waste

If you have a large amount of waste, use a baler or compactor to crush materials into blocks or bales. This allows you to transport larger volumes in one go, which could save you money.

If you do compact your waste, you should:

  • drain and clean waste containers that held liquid - eg drums, plastic bottles and cartons - before you compact them
  • keep paper and card dry to prevent polluting run-off from the compactor
  • separate the area around the compactor from surface water drains to prevent pollution - drainage should go to a foul sewer with permission from your water and sewerage company
  • stack blocks of baled materials securely so they won't fall over and spill materials around your site
  • move blocks of baled materials around your site carefully - roughly handled bales may split, spilling materials around your site.

You may need to register an exemption from waste management licensing before you can use your baler or compactor. You should contact your environmental regulator for more information.

Contact your environmental regulator

Further information

NIEA: Waste exemptions

SEPA and Resource Efficient Scotland: Segregating materials for recycling leaflet

SEPA: Waste exemptions

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