Commercial waste collection: A guide for small businesses

Disposing of business waste is an essential element of your day-to-day operations. Discover the benefits of choosing the right provider here

Commercial waste, business waste – whatever you want to call it, every company has rubbish that must be disposed of. While this topic may not initially be at the top of your mind as a business owner, it pays to carefully consider your options in this area. It’s a legal duty, so the questions around commercial waste disposal demand serious attention. Read on to learn more about:

If you’d like to compare commercial waste collection quotes now, simply fill out the
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This article will focus on commercial waste collection for small businesses in England only. So if you’re based in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, be sure to check the specific requirements for your location, such as local council rules, as they may differ.

If you’re looking to start a waste collection business yourself, you can find more information on that here.

What is commercial waste?

Commercial waste is defined as any waste product that is created from commercial activity. So whether you’re a builder needing to clear construction waste or an office discarding paper documents, it’s all categorised in the same way.

This also applies for any business waste you produce from a home-based company. For example, this could be the food waste created if you run a cake-making business.
Again, the official definition is clear: whatever waste is produced from commercial activity is considered as business waste and must be disposed of as such. It can’t go in your domestic refuse bins – you have to register for a commercial waste bin. So that’s something else to consider when starting a business from home.

In 2016, the commercial and industrial waste sector generated 32.2 million tonnes of waste in England.

What is ‘duty of care’?

In section 34 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 (the legislation which governs waste disposal, amongst other environmental considerations) states that you have a ‘duty of care’ for the waste you produce. This includes:

  • Ensuring any waste collection providers are licensed
  • Containing the waste within your control as much as possible
  • Storing it safely and securely
  • Preventing the waste from causing any damage to the environment or people
  • Having a waste transfer note if you plan to pass the waste on to another company

Waste transfer note
This is a written document that must be completed once a year, which details the waste your company produces. You’re required to keep a copy of the note for two years.

You’re also responsible for keeping waste to a minimum, by following the order below for waste management:

  1. Prevent
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle
  4. Recover

What is hazardous waste?
This is waste that’s considered to be damaging to humans or the environment. Some examples of hazardous waste include:

  • Asbestos
  • Chemicals
  • Batteries
  • Solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Oils (not including oils that can be eaten)
  • Equipment that contains substances harmful to the ozone e.g. refrigerators
  • Hazardous waste containers

There are additional requirements for this type of waste, so think about if it applies to your business. Examples include: disposing of chemicals or oil from a car wash business; chemicals used in treatments from a beauty or hairdressing business. You can find more information about hazardous waste here.

Who is involved in the waste disposal process?

The production, transportation and disposal of waste is separated into three parts: waste producer, waste carrier and waste receiver. Sometimes, the waste carrier and the waste receiver are the same organisation.

Waste producer – where the commercial waste is created
Waste carrier – how the waste is transported from producer to disposal
Waste receiver – where waste is disposed of at a licensed or permitted site

How to choose a commercial waste disposal provider

Essentially, you have two choices: use your local council or hire a private company. With the first choice, it takes away the element of deciding, as you simply use the services of whichever council your business premises is located in. Opting to use a private company means you make the decision about how your business waste is collected.

Along with deciding on a local council or private company service, you’ll also have to think about other factors. For instance, what type of waste will be collected? This means knowing if it can go in general waste disposal or if it needs specialist treatment, such as hazardous waste. Similarly, you should consider how it will be disposed of: will it be recycled or will it go in landfill?

In addition, many waste collection companies cover more than one location, which may be ideal if your business also occupies more than one site. If geographical expansion is part of your business strategy, whether now or in the future, it’s important to think about scale.

Overall, you should ask: can the service grow with your business? As the bigger your business becomes, the more waste it will create and consequently, your commercial waste disposal options will change too.

Another factor to consider is timeframe – check how frequently the standard commercial waste collection dates are from your local council or a potential provider. Think about if a weekly or less frequent option suits you, or conversely, if your business would require collections more often. From time to time, a one-off collection could work as well, for a particular item or a specific job. Again, these are available through your local council or a specialist company – be sure to check the fees.

Speaking of cost, local councils usually operate commercial waste collection for a fee. It’s important to note that this is in addition to any business rates you may pay. Your local council may have a commercial waste officer that you can contact for more information about services in your area.

Also, you need to bear in mind what the contract terms are that you may be required to sign up to. Check the contract length – can you afford the fees and are there any extra charges to be expected?

To help you decide you can check reviews for different companies as well as ask other small businesses which providers they use.

How to choose a commercial waste provider:

  1. Select from the local council or a private company
  2. Consider the type of waste to be collected
  3. Think about location and scale
  4. Decide on the timeframe requirements
  5. Investigate the costs
  6. Clarify the contract terms
  7. Check reviews

Alternatively, speak to an expert and compare commercial waste collection quotes by filling out the form at the top of the page.

Key points

  • Decide if you’ll use your local council or a private service provider
  • Clarify the type of waste for disposal – is it hazardous?
  • Think about how many locations you’ll need business waste to be collected from
  • Consider what services you’ll need both now and in the future
  • Plan how often you’ll require commercial waste collection
  • Weigh up the costs involved
  • Check contract terms
  • Research provider reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations
  • Remember your ‘duty of care’ responsibilities and legal obligations

Are there any other options?

If neither using your local council or a private company appeals to you, there is the option to take your business waste from your location directly to a commercial waste disposal site. As a business owner, you might consider this option to reduce costs and/or to have greater control over your business waste disposal process. Note that it’s illegal to dispose of commercial waste at domestic facilities, so you must ensure you’re using the correct method and facilities.

If you want to do this, you must first register as a waste disposal carrier. You can do this online, and usually it’s free to apply for the license if it’s only for waste that your business produces. However, this is likely to add more responsibility to you as a business owner, as well as demands on your business’ time and resources, so think about if it’s a viable option.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Remember, as the duty of care remains with you from the creation through to the disposal of waste, be sure to check that any service provider you choose has the correct accreditation and licenses. As if it’s disposed of illegally and the waste can be traced back to your business, you may still be liable – fines and prison sentences are the potential punishments for failing to comply with the legislation.

If convicted of an offence in a Magistrates or Crown court under the Environment Protection Act 1990, there is the potential for unlimited fines. It’s also possible to receive a prison sentence – if convicted in a Magistrates court, this could be up to 12 months; if convicted in a Crown court, this could be up to 5 years.

Which commercial waste bins are right for your business?

Whichever waste disposal method you opt for in the end, you’re going to need somewhere to store the waste while it’s on your property. So what are your options?

Before a bin can be placed on your premises, a risk assessment has to be completed. Generally, commercial waste bins come in a range of sizes, so you’re sure to find one that suits your business’ needs.

The capacity is measured in litres, and tends to range from 240 litres through to 1100 litres. Within this, 360 litre and 660 litre bins are available, and sometimes smaller bins too. Alternatively, you can use specialist business waste sacks – ideal if your business produces a minimal amount of waste or if you don’t have a secure location for the bins.

Key points

  • Risk assessment required first
  • Measured in litres (l)
  • Capacities of 240l, 360l, 660l or 1100l
  • Bins with smaller capacities may be available
  • An alternative to bins are waste sacks

What commercial waste recycling options are available?

When it comes to recycling, the first step is to accurately separate and store waste into recyclable and non-recyclable waste. You can use specific bins for paper, glass and food waste, as well as a different bin for general waste – this will go to landfill.

But recycling can begin before this point too. If you run your business as usual but with an eco-friendly mindset, there are many ways in which you can ‘go green’. For example, you can use materials that have already been recycled – this can be as simple as using notebooks made from recycled paper, or choosing furniture made from reclaimed wood.

Plus, instead of throwing old furniture or equipment away, you could donate it to your local charity shop. Or why not pay it forward and help out another start-up? Be sure to check that it’s safe to use though. Another option is to use a commercial waste company that is licensed to recycle.

Whichever method you decide to use, recycling could help boost your company’s image and may even determine if customers choose your services over another competitor. Being eco-friendly can become a part of your business strategy too – think about how to introduce a recycling scheme when you start your business.

A 2017 study by Unilever found that 33% of consumers choose to buy from brands that they feel do environmental or social good.


In this article, you’ve learned more about business waste – how it is defined as well as how to dispose of it safely and legally. Also, you’ve learned about how to choose a commercial waste collection provider. You’ve discovered the essential information about commercial waste bins. Plus, you’ve gained an understanding of commercial waste recycling.

Key points

  • You have a duty of care for the waste your business produces, from creation through to disposal
  • Prepare a waste transfer note each year and keep copies for two years
  • Remember it’s the law – the Environment Protection Act 1990
  • Select your local council or a private company for business waste disposal
  • Possibility to take waste from your business to the disposal site directly
  • Different requirements for hazardous waste – check if applicable
  • Commercial waste bins are measured in litres; sacks are an alternative
  • Look for ways to recycle waste as much as possible

Compare commercial waste collection options

The information on this page should help you to understand what your business might need in terms of commercial waste collection. For more information though, you should speak to an expert – Startups can help with this.
Comparing UK quotes with Startups is the best way to find the service and equipment most suited to your business.