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Business recycling

Fancy cutting costs, boosting staff morale and lessening your impact on the environment in one go? We’ve collated all you need to know about recycling your business waste...

Reduce, reuse, recycle – it’s a common phrase that we’re more than used to hearing. But, in the hectic hustle and bustle of the business world, remembering to separate your plastics from your paper might seem like a lot of faff.

So, what if we told you that the small business benefits to recycling go way beyond simply feeling good about being green?
Recycling will have a positive impact on both the environment and your finances. Reducing your company’s carbon footprint is a great way to improve your culture, too.

According to the Waste Resources Action Programme, a quarter of England’s waste is produced by its businesses. Making recycling a responsibility that any business is socially obliged to acknowledge.

Read on to learn more about business recycling and its small business benefits, plus the savings you could be missing out on…

This article will cover:

1. The small business benefits to recycling

There are obvious environmental benefits to recycling your business’ waste, but did you know that recycling could save you money, too? Business recycling will reduce your carbon footprint, and can even revive your company culture. Here’s how…

  • First, the most obvious reason to recycle: it contributes to the protection of our environment, both by reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and cutting the carbon emissions usually caused by general waste disposal.
  • Going green can improve your business’ reputation, showing clients, staff, investors and the general public that you’re mindful of your business’ impact on the planet
  • It can boost your staff’s morale, making them feel as though they’re a part of something positive. Plus, staff members who already recycle at home will appreciate the opportunity to do so at work too.
  • Recycling can foster a positive company culture. It gives everyone equal ownership of a positive change, showing that one person’s actions can have a big impact when everyone makes the effort together. Find out more here.
  • Recycling saves money as well as the planet. Recycling isn’t expensive to organise, and it can cut both costs and your carbon footprint. But more on that later.

2. How to set up a company recycling scheme

The first step in setting up a recycling scheme for your office is to find an appropriate local recycling waste contractor – in other words, the service that will collect your recycling from your offices, or a recycling drop-off point, and deliver it to a recycling facility.

The government provides a database of waste contractors across the UK – you can browse it here. It’s also a good idea to get in touch with your local authority to check out their recycling guidelines and see if they can recommend a service.

To get going and start recycling today, you can also compare the cost of waste providers by simply filling in the form at the top of this page!

To find the right contractor service, you’ll need to find out:

  • The materials you’ll be recycling – is it authorised to handle them?
  • Does it offer on-demand collection or do it in regular slots?
  • How frequently can it collect from you?
  • Can it collect waste directly from your office or will it need you to deliver it to a drop-off facility first?
  • Can it cater for the size of your business and the amount of waste it produces?
  • How will it charge you? Will it be annual or per collection?
  • Does it hold a waste carriers’ licence (more about this below)?

Once you’ve found a contractor that fits all of your preferences, you’ll need to negotiate a service contract with them – including collection schedules and the contract period.

Many contractors will provide you with the necessary recycling bins to use in your office – it’s worth making sure that this is the case, or else finding somewhere to purchase them from.

Often, a contractor will visit your office before the deal is struck in order to suss out the bins you’ll need, and the best location for you to leave them to be collected.

3. Recycling rules and regulations

What can a business recycle?

As long as you have the correct bins in place, your business can recycle:

  • Paper (including office paper, coloured paper, confidential documents, shredded paper, envelopes, leaflets/flyers, newspapers, magazines)
  • Cardboard
  • Glass (bottles and jars)
  • Tins and cans
  • Plastic bottles
  • Food waste
  • Printer cartridges
  • Electrical equipment
  • Batteries

Remember, only general waste can be disposed of in black bin bags – recycling must be disposed of in clear bags.

Duty of care requirements

Every business has a legal duty of care over its waste, and must ensure it’s stored and transported safely and securely, without causing any harm to people or the environment.

When it comes to recycling, your business will be subject to a number of requirements under the duty of care law.

Firstly, as with general waste collection, the contractor you select to transport your recycling to a recycling facility must hold a waste carriers license, having registered with the Environment Agency or – if you’re based in Scotland – the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

This is your look out, so ask to see a copy of their certificate of registration before employing their services. Make sure you ask the contractor where they plan to send or deliver your recycling to, to ensure it’s being properly recycled.

Conversely, if your business is going to transport its own recycling, make sure it delivers it to a licensed drop off facility (you don’t need to be registered as a waste carrier, but you must be sure you’re going to a site which is authorised to accept commercial recycling).

Any recycling collections or drop-offs, whether carried out by a contractor or your business, must be accompanied by a waste transfer note (WTN), provided by the waste holder/producer (you) and filled in by both you and the contractor. If you have waste collected regularly, you can create a ‘season ticket’ to cover a series of loads.

The UK government provides more detail, plus a waste transfer note template, here.

Electrical waste needs to be recycled in compliance with WEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations. You can read up on those here.

4. The costs to recycle

How much it costs your business to recycle will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The volume of waste you’re recycling
  • The materials you’re recycling (for example, white paper is often cheaper to recycle than coloured paper)
  • The location of your business
  • The prices set out by the recycling contractor you choose

Can recycling save your business money?

While you might assume recycling will be an additional cost to your business, you’re actually likely to find that it causes your overall waste management costs to drop.

After all, if you end up recycling a large portion of your waste instead of simply sending it to landfill, you’re going to save on landfill tax – which has now risen to a considerable £84.40 per tonne – not to mention waste disposal gate fees, which sit at an average of £6 per tonne.

Plus, whatever non-recyclable rubbish you have leftover after recycling isn’t likely to require a high-capacity service to remove it – and it probably won’t need to be collected as frequently, either – saving you money in waste collection costs.

5. Recycling best practices

If you want your business’ recycling to have as much of a positive impact as possible, you and your staff will need to follow a few best practices. Of course, some of these will be difficult to monitor and enforce to your staff. But, you can make sure everyone is aware of the rules – and send out reminders if standards seem to be slipping.

Firstly, you should be aware of whether you’ll need to separate all of your recyclable materials or whether you can mix them – for example, putting glass and plastic into the same bin. Check your local recycling guidelines, or those of the facility your contractor delivers to, to be sure.

Regardless of this, you and your staff should always rinse out food packaging and drinks bottles before throwing them away. Recycling facilities simply cannot recycle plastic packaging that has food smudged into it – cleanliness is crucial!

Likewise, you should only recycle clean paper. Ink and pencil markings are fine, of course, but if a piece of paper is grease-stained or has been used to wipe up food, it’s no longer recyclable and should go into general waste.

For even more cost and ecological benefits, try to reduce the amount of waste your business creates in the first place. Encourage staff to ditch single-use plastics and avoid printing anything that can be read and shared electronically. You could even try supplying staff with branded reusable drinks bottles.

Recycling bin layout

You’ll get the most out of your recycling scheme if you place each bin in the location where it’s needed most. For example:

  • Set up bins for paper, cardboard and confidential documents near to desks
  • Set up bins for paper, cardboard (for food packaging), plastic bottles, cans and tins, glass and food waste in your kitchen space, common area, or wherever staff tend to prepare and eat food
  • Place bins for batteries, printer cartridges and electricals at reception, near to printers, or else in a central location

Of course, you’ll also need to place general waste bins near these to negate the risk of people placing non-recyclables in the recycling bins.

6. Getting buy-in from your staff

Keeping staff informed

First, things first – you need to make your employees aware that you’re introducing a recycling scheme.

Send the message out through internal communications (such as emails and newsletters), put an update on the company intranet (if you have one), and stick notices or posters up around the office. Do this before the scheme begins so that staff know there’ll be changes, and then again once it has started.

Encourage staff to take part by explaining the benefits of recycling, and by being clear that everyone’s contributions are important. Make sure you keep your messages short and sweet, so your staff will have time to read and digest them within their busy schedules.

It’s important that you use the communication channels your staff pay attention to – don’t only put your announcement in the newsletter if the majority of staff don’t regularly read it!

You’ll also need to make sure that your cleaning staff are aware of the new recycling procedures.

Keeping staff engaged

Setting up a recycling system in the workplace is one thing, but maintaining it is another.

Here are some top tips on how to incentivise your staff, helping them stay focussed on your shared mission for a greener, leaner business:

  • Encourage senior managers and team leaders to lead by example and spread the positive recycling message
  • Offer a reward to the team which recycles the largest portion of its waste
  • Make a charitable donation, or pay for a team lunch, for every kilogram of waste recycled
  • Create business-wide recycling targets, and provide updates on how teams are doing. This doesn’t have to be as dry as it sounds;, creating some healthy competition wouldn’t hurt here<
  • Remove under-desk bins to encourage staff to use recycling bins instead (this is risky, as it may disgruntle some staff and lead to more cluttered desks – if you’re going to do it, be sure to warn staff and explain your reasoning)
  • Make the recycling area clear and easy to use. There’s nothing worse than dilly-dallying over which bin is best for your empty carton. Also, remember to clearly signpost that recycled objects must be clean

7. Fostering a green culture

Recycling is the gateway to building a greener, more sustainable office. Not only does this reflect well on your company’s image, but it can have a great effect on the culture in your business. Other eco-friendly initiatives include:

  • A cycle to work scheme which encourages staff to use their cars less often
  • Fundraising days and activities – think bake sales or sponsored fun runs – with proceeds going towards environmental causes
  • Charity days which give staff the opportunity to work for a local charity or participate in environmental events – such as beach cleans and woodland maintenance – for one or two days each year
  • Appointing someone to keep an eye on the stationary cupboard to make sure staff aren’t needlessly throwing away hundreds of pens every week
  • Branded reusable water bottles or keep-cups will help cut your business’ plastic consumption, and provide a point of unity for staff
  • Encouraging meat-free Mondays by having veg-only options, or perhaps a social that exposes staff to new vegetarian/vegan food

You might also consider making the following changes to increase your business’ sustainability and reduce its carbon footprint…

  • Stock up on reusable envelopes and use them for your post
  • Replace office cleaning products and soaps with eco-friendly brands
  • Replacing any food or drinks you provide with sustainably sourced alternatives
  • Replace the office’s light bulbs with low-energy ones
  • Source recycled equipment for the office, such as paper, pens, notebooks, ink cartridges, or even furniture made of recycled materials
  • Switching to a sustainable energy source to power your office

How to know what you can throw…

Plastic

Most domestic plastics can be recycled without a problem. As long as they’ve been thoroughly washed, your empty milk container or old water bottle is fine to be recycled.

However, for the recycling process to be a success, plastic types must not be mixed. And unfortunately, it’s quite tricky to tell one from the other. Certain symbols on certain plastic products identify which type of plastic it is:

Plastic recycling for business

Confusingly, symbols 1 to 7 look like the recycling symbol, but instead of meaning that the material can be recycled, they identify the type of plastic the product is made from.

Practically everything made with plastic should be marked with a code. Types 1 and 2 are widely accepted and are usually in container form, whereas type 4 is what plastic bags are made from, which is sometimes (but not always) accepted. Type 7 is a mixed plastic compound, like acrylic, and has little to no recycling value.

It’s best to check which types of plastic your recycling agency accepts, and then clearly signpost this to your staff, so that you don’t mix the wrong plastics together. For more information on this, take a look at our page on plastic recycling.

business glass recycling

Glass recycling

Glass is 100% recyclable, so you don’t need to worry about confusing symbols here. Just make sure that your jam jar is thoroughly washed out before you pop it in the recycling.

But what about coloured glass?
Mostly, you can recycle all glass bottles and jars in the same way, regardless of colour. This is known as single-stream recycling. However, some recycling companies will request that you separate your glass into clear, brown, green and blue glass. Again, check what your agency’s preferences are.

Can the label on jars go into the recycling?
Yes. The recycling programme will allow for labels, but some do ask that lids and rings are removed before recycling – again, check with your agency or council.

Window glass, ceramics, light bulbs, ovenware and automotive glass cannot be recycled via domestic glass recycling, as such materials have to be treated differently due to their different melting temperature.

So, how do you recycle light bulbs?
Well, certain light bulbs – such as fluorescent tubes and CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) – must be collected, or disposed of, separately to your usual recycling or rubbish. This is because they contain mercury, which could be dangerous if it leaks out of the bulb.

Other than that, light bulbs cannot be recycled, unless the individual manufacturer runs a scheme. However, light bulbs that are not fluorescent can be disposed of with other domestic waste.


Take a look at the Startups page on the essential dos and don’ts of glass recycling for more information.

What’s next?

The benefits of recycling your business waste are undeniable. If you’d like to get started, follow the advice in this guide, and get in touch with your local council for their advice on how to go about introducing a recycling scheme in your area.

Or, to start recycling today, compare the cost of waste providers by filling in the free form at the top of this page!

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