Commercial Recycling Guide 2024

Commercial recycling centre machine

In this commercial recycling guide, we’ll discuss what exactly business waste recycling is, how each waste type is recycled, why businesses should recycle, what the laws and regulations are, and provide the latest commercial recycling statistics.

Use the table of contents to jump ahead to the sections you’re most interested in.

Table of contents

What is commercial waste recycling?

Commercial waste recycling refers to the process of collecting, sorting, and processing waste materials produced by businesses and commercial establishments to recover recyclable materials.

This practice aims to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, conserve natural resources, and minimise environmental impact.

Commercial waste encompasses a wide range of materials, including paper, cardboard, plastics, metals, glass, and food waste, among others.

Piles of rubbish as a commercial waste recycling facility

How is commercial waste recycled?

Commercial waste is produced by businesses through their various operations. This waste is then thrown away into bins, keeping the recyclable and non-recyclable (general waste) materials in different containers.

Then, on the scheduled collection days, a business’s waste collector will arrive to empty the bins, taking the general waste to landfill and the recyclable material to a recycling treatment facility.

Please note: businesses do not automatically have a waste collector like residential homes do with the council. Businesses need to use the services of a waste management company to arrange for collections. This is a legal requirement.

Next, we’ll discuss how each waste type is recycled once it arrives at a treatment facility:

Paper and cardboard recycling

Paper and cardboard

First, the paper and cardboard are sorted at a recycling facility where non-recyclable contaminates are removed such as foils from packaging and sometimes various paper and card are separated by grade and thickness.

Then the materials are shredded and mixed with water to create a sludge. This mixture is then put into machines to break down the paper fibres and create a pulp.

The pulp is then cleaned, refined, and bleached (if making white paper). Additional fibres can then also be added if a sturdier card is desired.

Finally, the prepared pulp is then spread onto large screens to form a continuous sheet. Water drains away, and the remaining fibre mat is pressed and dried using heated rollers, creating rolls or sheets of paper. This paper can then be cut, packaged, and sold for various uses.

Plastic recycling

Empty plastic water bottles

Plastic recycling is complex as there are a lot of different types of plastic that require different recycling methods.

First, the plastic is sorted, identifying the type of resin (1 through 7) and colour using techniques like infrared sensors and air classifiers to automate the sorting process.

Then, the plastics are cleaned and shredded into flakes.

The flakes are then washed again to remove any remaining contaminants and are then melted and extruded into pellets, which serve as raw material for manufacturing new plastic products.

Aluminium can recycling

Aluminium drinks cans

Firstly, the cans are cleaned to remove any drink residues and contaminants. Then they’re shredded to make the process of melting them down easier.

The shredded aluminium pieces are placed in a large furnace and melted at temperatures around 660°C.

The molten aluminium is then poured into moulds to form ingots or bars which can then be cooled and rolled into sheets and other forms for new products.

Aluminium can recycling is a highly efficient process which saves up to 95% of the energy required to create new aluminium from raw bauxite ore. So it’s important we recycle this material as much as possible.

Glass waste recycling

Green glass bottles

Glass is sorted at a treatment facility where the glass is separated by colour (clear, green, and brown) because the different colours melt at different temperatures.

Then the glass is cleaned to remove any impurities such as drink residue, labels, and caps.

The cleaned glass is then crushed into small pieces, known as cullets. The cullet is then pulverised further to create a sand-like consistency.

This cullet sand is then melted in a furnace at temperatures ranging from 1,500 to 1,600°C to create molten glass which is moulded or blown into new shapes and products.

If done correctly, 100% of the glass can be recycled. This means 1 glass bottle melted down equals 1 new glass bottle.

Food waste recycling

Food waste rotting

Food waste recycling involves converting food scraps into valuable resources, such as compost, bioenergy, and animal feed, rather than disposing of it in landfills.

This process not only helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also contributes to soil health and reduces the need for chemical fertilisers.


Composting is the most common method of food waste recycling. It involves the biological decomposition of organic matter under controlled conditions to produce compost, a rich soil amendment that helps improve soil health and structure.

Anaerobic Digestions

Anaerobic digestion is a process that breaks down organic materials in the absence of oxygen, producing biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide) and digestate (a nutrient-rich substance). The biogas can be used as a renewable energy source for generating electricity, heating, or as a vehicle fuel, while the digestate can be used as a fertiliser.

Animal Feed

Some food waste, particularly pre-consumer waste from food processing and preparation, can be repurposed as animal feed. This recycling method requires ensuring that the food waste is safe and suitable for animal consumption.

What are the UK commercial recycling regulations?

Environmental Protection Act 1990

This act states that businesses have a duty of care to ensure that they recycle and separate their waste where they reasonably can and challenges businesses to not send all of their waste to landfill.

Food Waste Recycling Legislation

The UK government has proposed stricter legislation on food waste recycling, including mandatory separate collections of food waste. The aim is for a 75% recycling rate by 2030. This follows the example set by Scotland, where businesses producing more than 5kg of food waste are legally required to have it collected separately for recycling.

Controlled Waste Act

Businesses must obtain a waste management licence to legally transport and dispose of waste. This doesn’t mean that your business must obtain one, however, it simply means your waste must be collected by a licensed carrier such as Waste Managed.

Changes to the business recycling laws in Wales

Welsh flag on a pole

In Wales, from April 6th, businesses are required to separate their recycling. This means that instead of having one container for all dry-mixed recycling materials, they will need to be separated for more efficient recycling.

Therefore, Welsh businesses will require a collection service and dedicated bins for:

  • Food
  • Paper & Cardboard
  • Glass
  • Plastic, metals, and cartons

In addition to their standard general waste collections.

That’s a lot of bins, so many are opting for waste sacks rather than large wheelie bins. You can read our full Welsh recycling laws guide here.

What are the benefits of recycling business waste?

There are numerous advantages of recycling for your business, including environmental benefits, cost savings, resource conservation, and enhanced corporate responsibility.

Recycling business waste helps the environment significantly by reducing carbon emissions and reducing the demand for new and finite materials.

But it can also save businesses money by reducing the amount of general waste they send to landfill (which lowers landfill tax).

Furthermore, consumers are becoming more eco-conscious. This means that customers are expecting businesses to recycle and may even boycott the services and products of businesses that don’t do their bit for the environment.

This can also affect your employees in terms of retaining them and hiring new team members.

Business meeting discussing going greener with recycling

Commercial recycling facts and statistics

Here are some fascinating facts and statistics about commercial recycling in the UK, highlighting the significance of recycling efforts across various sectors:

  • London had the lowest recycling rate among UK regions in 2021, at just 33%​​.

  • In 2021, the UK managed to recycle around 80% of paper and cardboard, which is the most recycled item in the country. Recycling paper consumes 70% less energy than producing new paper.

  • The UK recycles 67% of its glass each year, demonstrating the efficiency of glass recycling processes​​.

  • 61% of the UK’s plastic waste is exported overseas (rather than recycled), with significant amounts sent to Malaysia, Turkey, and Poland​​.

  • The UK government had set a recycling target of 50% by 2020, which was not met (48.7%). Wales leads with a recycling rate of 65%, one of the highest globally​​.

  • 80% of items sent to landfill could potentially have been recycled, emphasising the need for better waste management practices​​.
Commercial recycling UK statistics infographic


  • What are the UK recycling targets?
  • How much commercial waste is recycled?
  • Are UK businesses legally required to recycle?

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