General Waste Guide 2024

Two red general waste bins

General waste bins are the most common types of waste bin for businesses.

Understanding and efficiently handling general waste is paramount for businesses of all sizes.

Whether you run a small cafe or a large manufacturing plant, managing general waste effectively not only benefits the environment but also ensures compliance with UK regulations and contributes to cost savings.

In this guide, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about general waste, from its definition to regulations and disposal methods.

Table of Contents:

What is General Waste?

General waste refers to non-recyclable waste that cannot be easily sorted and recycled.

It’s made up of various materials such as plastic, paper, food scraps, and other non-hazardous items that are typically disposed of in landfill sites or incinerators.

Types of General Waste

  • Non-recyclable Plastics

    Items such as packaging materials, disposable cutlery, and certain types of plastic containers fall into this category.
  • Mixed Paper and Cardboard

    This category includes various paper products like newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes, and packaging materials that have reached the end of their useful life.
  • Organic Waste

    Food scraps, garden waste, and other biodegradable materials constitute organic waste, which decomposes over time and can emit greenhouse gases if not managed properly.
  • Textiles and Fabrics

    Unusable clothing, linens, and textiles contribute to general waste when they cannot be reused, donated, or recycled. Proper clothing disposal and recycling are essential to prevent environmental damage and reduce the strain on landfills.
General waste

Common Examples of General Waste

  • Non-recyclable plastics

  • Soiled paper and cardboard

  • Disposable diapers and sanitary products

  • Small amounts of broken glass and ceramics

  • Small quantities of non-hazardous chemicals

  • Non-recyclable packaging materials

What can’t be put in a General Waste Bin?

  • Recyclable materials

  • Hazardous waste such as chemicals, batteries, and electronic waste

  • Medical waste, including sharps and biohazardous materials

  • Liquids and oils

  • Paints and solvents

  • Asbestos-containing materials

  • Construction and demolition waste

Can you put cardboard in a general waste bin?

In most cases, soiled or contaminated cardboard should be placed in general waste bins – such as used pizza boxes.

However, it’s important to prioritise recycling whenever possible.

Clean and dry cardboard boxes can be recycled separately, reducing the volume of waste sent to landfill or incineration.

What kind of businesses need a general waste bin?

  • Retail stores and supermarkets

  • Educational institutions

  • Healthcare facilities

Characteristics of General Waste

  • Complex Composition

    General waste is heterogeneous, comprising a mixture of different materials with varying properties and degradation rates.

    This complexity makes it challenging to sort and recycle effectively.
  • Volume and Weight

    Businesses and households generate significant quantities of general waste, leading to logistical challenges in storage, transportation, and disposal.
  • Environmental Impact

    Improper disposal of general waste can have adverse effects on the environment, including soil contamination, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

What colour bin bags are general waste?

While colour coding may vary depending on local regulations and waste management policies, general waste is commonly disposed of in black or dark-coloured bags.

These bags help distinguish from other waste streams, such as food waste (which is usually put into clear biodegradable bags).

Black bin bags overflowing in 1100L green wheelie bins

The Significance of Managing General Waste

  • Environmental Preservation

    Proper management of general waste is essential for preserving natural resources, reducing pollution, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
  • Legal Compliance

    Businesses are required to adhere to waste management regulations, which mandate proper handling, storage, and disposal of general waste to minimise environmental harm and public health risks.
  • Cost Efficiency

    Implementing efficient waste management practices can lead to cost savings for businesses through reduced disposal fees, increased recycling revenue, and improved resource utilisation.

General waste represents a significant challenge for businesses and communities alike, requiring careful management to minimise its environmental impact and ensure compliance with regulations.

By understanding the composition, characteristics, and importance of general waste management, businesses can take proactive steps to reduce their environmental footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Why is Managing General Waste Important?

Managing general waste is important because it’s a huge part of responsible business operations with big consequences on the environment, your business’ compliance, and financial viability.

Let’s delve deeper into why businesses should prioritise the effective management of general waste:

Environmental Preservation

  • Minimising Pollution

    Improper disposal of general waste can lead to pollution of soil, water bodies, and the atmosphere.

    Hazardous chemicals and toxins present in certain types of waste can leach into the environment, contaminating ecosystems and posing risks to human and animal health.
  • Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    Landfill sites, where much of the general waste ends up, emit methane and other greenhouse gases as organic materials decompose anaerobically.

    These emissions contribute to climate change and global warming.

    By minimising the amount of waste sent to landfills through recycling and waste-to-energy initiatives, businesses can help reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Preserving Natural Resources

    Many materials found in general waste, such as paper, plastics, and metals, are derived from finite natural resources.

    By recycling these materials, businesses can conserve raw materials, reduce energy consumption associated with extraction and processing, and lessen the environmental impact of resource extraction activities.
  • Regulatory Requirements

    Businesses are subject to various waste management regulations and legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

    These regulations impose obligations on businesses to segregate, store, and dispose of their waste responsibly.

    Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines, penalties, and legal liabilities, damaging the reputation and financial stability of the business.
  • Duty of Care

    Under the Duty of Care regulations, businesses have a legal obligation to ensure that their waste is handled, stored, transported, and disposed of in a manner that does not harm the environment or human health.

    This includes keeping accurate records of waste transfers and ensuring that waste is only transferred to authorised carriers and treatment facilities.

    Did you know that soon you will have to use mandatory digital waste tracking software? Read more in our dedicated article.

Cost Efficiency

  • Reduced Disposal Costs

    Effective waste management practices, such as waste reduction, recycling, and composting, can help businesses minimise the amount of waste sent to landfill, thereby reducing disposal costs associated with landfill taxes and tipping fees.
  • Revenue Generation

    Recycling certain materials found in general waste, such as paper, cardboard, plastics, and metals, can generate revenue through the sale of recyclable materials to recycling facilities and processors.

    Additionally, some businesses may be eligible for government incentives or grants for implementing recycling and waste reduction initiatives.
  • Operational Efficiency

    Implementing efficient waste management practices can streamline operations, improve resource utilisation, and reduce waste generation throughout the supply chain.

    This can lead to cost savings, increased productivity, and enhanced competitiveness in the marketplace.
a bin man collecting general commercial waste from local businesses

General Waste Laws and Regulations in the UK

In the United Kingdom, businesses are subject to a comprehensive framework of regulations and laws governing the management, disposal, and treatment of waste, including general waste.

Compliance with these regulations is essential for businesses to minimise environmental impact, protect public health, and avoid legal liabilities.

Let’s explore some of the key regulations relevant to commercial waste or business waste disposal:

Environmental Protection Act 1990

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 is one of the primary pieces of legislation governing waste management in the UK.

Key provisions of this Act relevant to general waste management include:

  • Duty of Care

    Businesses have a legal duty of care to ensure that their waste is stored, transported, treated, and disposed of safely and responsibly.

    This duty extends from the point of waste generation to its final disposal and requires businesses to take all reasonable measures to prevent pollution and harm to human health and the environment.
  • Waste Hierarchy

    The Act promotes the waste hierarchy, which prioritises waste prevention, minimisation, reuse, recycling, recovery, and only as a last resort, disposal.

    Businesses are encouraged to adopt measures to minimise waste generation and maximise resource recovery through recycling and other sustainable practices.

Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011

The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 build upon the framework established by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and introduce additional requirements and obligations for waste management.

Key provisions of these regulations include:

  • Waste Classification

    The Regulations classify waste into various categories, including hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste, based on its properties and potential environmental and health risks.

    Businesses must accurately classify their waste to ensure proper handling, storage, and disposal.
  • Duty of Care Documentation

    Businesses are required to maintain accurate records of their waste management activities, including waste transfers, consignee details, and waste disposal routes.

    This documentation helps demonstrate compliance with the duty of care requirements and facilitates traceability and accountability throughout the waste management chain.
  • Producer Responsibility Obligations

    Certain businesses, particularly those involved in the production, import, or supply of goods and packaging, may have additional responsibilities under producer responsibility regulations.

    These obligations may include registration, reporting, and financial contributions towards the recycling and recovery of packaging waste.

Landfill Tax

The Landfill Tax is an environmental tax imposed on the disposal of waste at landfill sites in the UK.

The tax aims to discourage waste disposal to landfills and incentivize waste reduction, recycling, and alternative waste treatment methods.

Key aspects of the Landfill Tax include:

  • Tax Rates

    The Landfill Tax is levied at different rates depending on the type of waste disposed of and the fiscal year.

    Higher tax rates generally apply to hazardous waste and waste with higher environmental impact.
  • Exemptions and Relief

    Certain types of waste may be exempt from or eligible for relief from the Landfill Tax, such as inert waste, qualifying materials used for landfill restoration, and waste from charitable activities.

    Businesses should familiarise themselves with the eligibility criteria for exemptions and relief to optimise their waste management strategies and minimise tax liabilities.

Navigating the complex regulatory landscape surrounding general waste management can be challenging for businesses.

However, compliance with applicable regulations is essential to ensure environmental sustainability, legal compliance, and financial efficiency.

By staying informed about relevant laws and regulations, businesses can implement effective waste management practices, minimise environmental impact, and mitigate risks associated with non-compliance.

Additionally, seeking guidance from environmental consultants or waste management professionals can help businesses develop tailored solutions to meet their specific waste management needs while complying with regulatory requirements.

A photograph of a green bin lorry collecting commecial waste

How to Manage General Waste

You can manage your general waste by doing regular waste audits, finding methods to reduce and prevent waste, segregating waste properly, and implementing better recycling initiatives.

Managing general waste effectively is essential for businesses to minimise environmental impact, comply with regulations, and achieve cost savings.

By implementing strategic waste management practices, businesses can reduce waste generation, increase recycling rates, and optimise disposal methods.

Here are some practical steps to help businesses manage general waste effectively:

Conduct a Waste Audit

Begin by conducting a comprehensive waste audit to assess the types and quantities of waste generated by your business.

Identify sources of waste generation, waste composition, and current waste management practices.

This information will serve as the foundation for developing an effective waste management strategy.

Waste Reduction and Prevention

Implement measures to minimise waste generation at the source.

This may include:

  • Procurement Practices

    Choose suppliers and products with minimal packaging or those packaged using recyclable materials.
  • Product Design

    Optimise product design to minimise waste during manufacturing, use, and disposal stages.
  • Process Optimisation

    Streamline production processes to reduce material wastage and improve resource efficiency.

Segregation and Storage

Set up designated waste collection areas and provide clearly labelled bins for different types of waste, including general waste, recyclables, and hazardous waste.

Educate employees about proper waste segregation practices to ensure that recyclable materials are separated from general waste effectively.

Recycling Initiatives

Implement recycling programs for materials commonly found in general waste, such as paper, cardboard, plastics, and metals.

Partner with local recycling facilities or waste management companies to arrange for the collection and recycling of recyclable materials.

Provide training and educational materials to employees to promote recycling awareness and participation.

Waste-to-Energy and Resource Recovery

Explore opportunities for waste-to-energy initiatives or resource recovery technologies to divert general waste from landfills and extract value from waste materials.

Consider technologies such as anaerobic digestion, composting, or incineration with energy recovery to convert organic waste into renewable energy or valuable by-products.

Comply with Regulations

Ensure compliance with relevant waste management regulations and legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

Familiarise yourself with your legal obligations regarding waste classification, storage, transport, and disposal.

Maintain accurate records of waste management activities to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements.

Educate and Train Employees

Provide training and awareness programs for employees to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities in waste management.

Educate employees about the importance of waste reduction, segregation, and recycling, and encourage their active participation in waste management initiatives.

Continuous Improvement

Regularly review and evaluate your waste management practices to identify opportunities for improvement.

Monitor waste generation trends, recycling rates, and compliance with waste management procedures.

Solicit feedback from employees and stakeholders to identify areas for enhancement and implement corrective actions as needed.

Effective management of general waste requires a proactive and holistic approach that encompasses waste reduction, recycling, compliance with regulations, and ongoing improvement efforts.

By implementing the strategies outlined above, businesses can minimise their environmental footprint, achieve regulatory compliance, and realise cost savings through efficient waste management practices.

Investing in sustainable waste management not only benefits the environment but also enhances the reputation and competitiveness of businesses in today’s socially responsible marketplace.

A photograph of lots of black general waste bins

General Waste Facts and Statistics

infographic on general waste facts and statistics

  • 84% of the commercial waste generated in the UK was created in England.

  • Current commercial waste statistics are likely to increase by 70% by 2050.

  • 2.12 billion tonnes of waste is produced across the world each year, and rising.

  • Food waste accounts for 1.3 billion tonnes of the waste we produce.

  • The average person produces just under 1kg of waste every single day.

  • It’s estimated that there are more than 10 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the oceans every single year.

  • Around 80% of the materials sent to landfill could have been recycled instead.
A photograph of a black bin sack inside of a general waste bin

General Waste Disposal Methods

Disposing of general waste responsibly is essential to minimise environmental impact, comply with regulations, and ensure public health and safety.

While landfill disposal has historically been the most common method for handling general waste, there are now a variety of disposal options available, each with its own advantages and considerations. Let’s explore some of the primary general waste disposal methods:

Landfill Disposal

Landfill disposal involves burying waste in designated landfill sites, where it undergoes decomposition over time.

While landfilling remains a prevalent disposal method, it presents several environmental challenges, including:

  • Environmental Pollution

    Landfills can contribute to soil and groundwater contamination through leachate, a toxic liquid formed as waste decomposes.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    Landfills produce methane and carbon dioxide emissions, potent greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Despite these drawbacks, landfilling may still be necessary for certain types of waste that cannot be recycled or recovered through alternative methods.


Incineration, or waste-to-energy, involves burning general waste at high temperatures in specialised facilities called incinerators.

This process converts waste into ash, gases, and heat energy, which can be used for electricity generation or heating purposes.

Key considerations for incineration include:

  • Energy Recovery

    Incineration facilities can generate electricity or heat by capturing and utilizing the energy produced during combustion.
  • Air Emissions Control

    Modern incinerators are equipped with advanced pollution control technologies, such as scrubbers and filters, to minimise air emissions and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.

While incineration reduces the volume of waste sent to landfills and can generate energy, concerns remain about air pollution and the release of potentially harmful pollutants.

Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Technologies:

Waste-to-Energy technologies encompass a range of advanced processes that convert general waste into energy, fuels, or valuable by-products.

These technologies include:

  • Anaerobic Digestion

    Anaerobic digestion involves breaking down organic waste in the absence of oxygen to produce biogas, a renewable energy source, and nutrient-rich digestate for use as fertiliser.
  • Gasification

    Gasification converts solid waste into synthesis gas (syngas), which can be used for electricity generation, fuel production, or chemical synthesis.
  • Pyrolysis

    Pyrolysis uses high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to decompose organic waste into biochar, bio-oil, and syngas, which can be used as renewable fuels or feedstocks.

Waste-to-Energy technologies offer opportunities to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, minimise waste sent to landfills, and generate renewable energy or valuable products from waste materials.


Composting is a natural process that decomposes organic waste into nutrient-rich compost, which can be used to improve soil health and fertility.

Key benefits of composting include:

  • Organic Waste Diversion

    Composting diverts organic waste from landfills, where it would otherwise produce methane emissions.
  • Soil Amendment

    Compost can be used as a soil amendment in agriculture, landscaping, and horticulture to enhance soil structure, water retention, and nutrient content.

Composting is particularly well-suited for managing organic waste, such as food scraps, yard waste, and agricultural residues.

Can I put food waste into a general waste bin?

Food waste should ideally be diverted from general waste bins and directed towards separate food waste bin.

In fact, if you’re a business located in Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales it’s now law that you must have a dedicated food waste bin if you throw away more than 5kg of food a week.

It’s also expected that England will follow suit soon.

By segregating food waste, businesses can contribute to the production of compost or biogas, reducing your environmental impact.

Choosing the right general waste disposal method depends on various factors, including the composition of the waste, environmental considerations, regulatory requirements, and resource availability.

While landfill disposal and incineration remain common methods, waste-to-energy technologies and composting offer sustainable alternatives for managing general waste.

By evaluating the benefits and challenges of each disposal method and implementing a comprehensive waste management strategy, businesses can minimise environmental impact, achieve regulatory compliance, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

A photograph of two bin men moving general rubbish into their bin lorry


Effective management of general waste is not only a legal obligation but also a moral responsibility for businesses in the UK.

By implementing sustainable waste management practices, businesses can minimise their environmental footprint, comply with regulations, and contribute to a cleaner, healthier future for generations to come.

Remember, every action taken towards proper general waste management makes a significant difference in preserving our planet for future generations.

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