Waste collection sector trends

A waste collection storage facility

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the waste collection and management sector

The UK produces over 100 million tonnes of waste each year, much of which comes from construction and demolition and from industrial processes. Nearly two thirds of the total is household and business waste - households themselves generate around 31 million tonnes a year. Most of the waste in the UK continues to be disposed of in landfill sites, but rates of waste incineration and recycling are growing and landfill rates are falling slowly. A number of landfill sites have closed in recent years. According to government figures, over 50% of industrial and business waste and around 45% of household waste is currently recycled or composted. The recycling rate for household waste increased steadily between 2000 and 2014, but then slipped back slightly in 2015 before increasing slightly in 2016 (latest figures available). Although the UK aims to meet the EU target of recycling at least 50% of household waste by 2020 it is looking increasingly unlikely that it will do so.

The disposal of all types of waste is being increasingly affected by new laws. Environmental concerns mean that this trend is likely to continue with new regulations being introduced to cover more and more types of waste. The government has confirmed their commitment to a 'zero waste economy', where waste is reduced as much as possible and re-using and recycling waste is made a priority. Both the government and the waste industry want to encourage a 'circular economy', whereby waste production is reduced and the re-use and recycling of resources is increased.

Recovery and recycling of certain wastes is already required by law - for example businesses handling large amounts of packaging materials have an obligation to ensure that a certain proportion is recycled. Some items - such as refrigerators, batteries and hazardous substances - may only be disposed of in a specified way and may no longer be simply taken to a rubbish dump. Regulations concerning waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) mean that manufacturers and importers of these goods must now pay for the collection and recycling of old products.

These controls have led to fresh opportunities for businesses offering a specialist waste collection service. Waste collection businesses are ideally placed to help other firms to comply with their growing waste disposal, recovery and recycling obligations. However, because barriers to entry are low, the waste industry has become intensely competitive and legitimate businesses are being undercut by illegal operators.

As further legislation is introduced and recycling requirements increase, demand for specialised waste collection services is likely to grow over the next few years, particularly as resource scarcity means that large companies are increasingly looking to include more secondary materials in their raw materials stock.

Not all of the recent regulatory changes have seen things tightened up however - during the early 2010s the waste transfer note system for controlled waste was relaxed somewhat, although appropriate documentation still needs to be completed.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments. The Environmental Services Association (ESA) is the main trade association for businesses that offer waste management services, including waste collection. You can find out more about the ESA and the support and services they offer to members on their website.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) is a professional body which represents waste management professionals. The CIWM sets professional standards for individuals working in the waste management industry and publishes the monthly CIWM Journal for waste and resource management professionals. Visit the CIWM website to find out more.

Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of keeping up to date. Along with CIWM Journal, relevant publications for the waste industry include Recycling and Waste World and Materials Recycling World (MRW). You can find out more on their websites.

You can find lots of information about waste issues and developments online. The regional environmental regulators' websites are a valuable source of up to date information on regulatory issues and best practice:

  • the Environment Agency in England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland

The Lets Recycle website includes details of the government's waste policy and the obligations of businesses offering waste collection and disposal services. WRAP works with industry and government to promote a sustainable, resource-efficient economy that gives greater prominence to re-using and recycling materials. Visit the WRAP website for more information.

You can read about the government's strategies for reducing waste on the Gov.uk website.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the waste management sector, such as the CIWM/ESA Annual Conference or the Recycling and Waste Management (RWM) Exhibition. You will be able to find out about the latest regulations affecting waste management, obtain up to date information about the recycling industry and meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers of waste collection and management equipment and vehicles. You may also be able to find out about current trends and demand for waste collection services and make contact with potential customers. Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the exhibitions website.

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