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Make your Business more Sustainable

Eight Top Tips:

Finding the right balance between revenue and costs is critical for business success. Peaks and troughs in the economy are hard to predict, but any business can improve its profitability by closely managing costs. See if you can make your business more sustainable with our eight top tips:

  1. Set a baseline: Carry out an environmental review of your own business to assess current weaknesses and to be able to measure future progress against targets.
  2. Put sustainability at the heart of your business: Develop a sustainability action plan and targets and consider a structured approach to your environmental improvements by using an environmental management system.
  3. Save money by reducing, reusing and recycling your business waste: The waste material your business produces can be an unnecessarily costly burden – eg landfill tax, or a wastefully untapped potential source of revenue. Think about different ways to deal with waste:
    • Reduce your business waste to save money
    • Reuse your business waste to boost profits
    • Recycle your business waste
  1. Save money through energy efficiency: Better control of heating and hot water systems, lighting systems, idle office equipment and machinery are all prime areas to save money through energy efficiency.
  2. Save money by cutting your water use: Reducing your water use, storage of rainwater or sustainable drainage systems can help your business become more water efficient.
  3. Save money by making your processes more efficient: Take a close look at your processes to catch unnecessary waste in materials, effort and time – improve your process efficiency.
  4. Save money by reducing business travel: Think about investing in video conferencing facilities to cut down on travel needs and consider more sustainable alternatives to car travel with a workplace travel plan.
  5. Review your progress and keep improving: By making a series of environmental improvements you shouldn’t need to go back to square one; reviewing and building upon your progress is key to continually improving your business. Meanwhile you can take the opportunity to market your own hard-earned environmental credentials.

Reduce your business waste to save money


With the cost of goods and materials rising, using resources efficiently and reducing your business’ waste makes good financial sense. It’s also better for the environment.

The cost of sending waste to landfill is increasing and so are the restrictions on what you can send. You can face penalties if you do not handle waste appropriately or have the right paperwork before it leaves your premises.

You can save money and make your business more efficient by focusing on how you reduce your business waste and by how you deal with the waste that remains.

This guide explains your main options for reducing your business waste and identifies some of the key areas you could focus on.

Reuse your business waste to boost profits


The traditional way to dispose of waste is to use a landfill site. Costs associated with such practices continue to rise as stricter regulations and controls are applied to limit the environmental impact of landfill. Rising disposal costs are an impetus for developing more cost-effective waste management solutions.

This guide provides information on how businesses in Northern Ireland can use their unwanted waste to boost profits. There are innovative ways to reuse business waste to your advantage, whether through designing waste to be reused or finding other businesses which want your waste as their important raw material.

It will help you decide what the options are for your business. It will also help you assess the costs and benefits to your business and highlight the issues you will need to consider.

Recycle your business waste


With ever-rising waste disposal costs, smart businesses need to think about alternative ways of disposing of their unwanted materials. One option is to recycle waste. Specialist recycling services can collect all sorts of everyday recyclable materials, including paper, plastic, metal and electronic equipment.

The benefits of recycling are both environmental and financial:

  • it can save energy, reduce air and water pollution and greenhouse gases and help conserve natural resources
  • making goods from recycled materials uses fewer resources and less energy than making them from scratch
  • it can save your business money as it reduces costs associated with waste collection, transport and disposal
  • most business waste is currently disposed of in landfill sites, which can be expensive because of associated taxes

This guide describes the opportunities available for businesses in Northern Ireland to recycle their waste and highlights the issues you will need to consider. It explores business recycling options and will help you to assess the costs and associated benefits to your business.

Recycle your business waste

Recycling best practice and obligations

Recycling is important for the environment because it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill and reduces the need to use new raw materials.

Recycling is the third-best waste management option after reducing and reusing waste because energy and resources are needed to reprocess the waste before the materials can be used again – see how to reduce your business waste to save money and how to reuse your business waste to boost profits.

However, recycling is a good option for many types of business waste and you need to maximise the benefits which recycling waste can offer your business and the environment.

Recycling best practice

Buy products that can be recycled – only 7.5% of all office waste, including paper, is recycled but 70% could potentially be recycled.

Separate waste that can be recycled from other waste.

Check the cost of recycling – it could be much less than sending your waste for energy recovery or disposal. Find out if your local district council provides recycling collections at low or no cost.

Sell high-quality recyclable materials, for example construction materials. There are an increasing number of uses for recycled materials.

Waste exchanges give price information and quality specifications for a wide range of products. These can include compost, glass, metals, paper and board, plastics, textiles and wood.

Your recycling obligations

You must comply with special requirements for recycling certain wastes, such as:

  • Batteries that contain harmful chemicals and metals – these are classified as hazardous waste
  • Electrical and electronic equipment
  • Fridges and air-conditioning equipment containing ozone-depleting substances
  • End-of-life vehicles (ELVs) – you must send ELVs for dismantling and depollution and recycle any component parts
  • Packaging – you must comply with certain requirements if you produce packaged products, or place packaging or packaged goods on the market

You must comply with waste legislation if you are recycling or transporting waste.

Recycle your business waste

Advantages and disadvantages of recycling business waste

Your can gain a number of benefits from recycling your business waste. However, remember that a waste activity such as recycling uses energy so your priority should be to reduce waste in the first place. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of business waste recycling carefully:

Advantages of recycling business waste

Environmental benefits – recycling business waste means less disposal to landfill and less overall harm to the environment.

  • Business reputation – you can attract new customers, enhance your chances of winning contracts and improve customer loyalty by demonstrating your environmental responsibility through recycling
  • Reducing waste costs – managing and handling waste is costly, and reducing the amount of waste you send directly to landfill can bring large savings on landfill tax.
  • Meeting legal obligations – businesses in some industries have a legal responsibility for disposal of their products; ensuring compliance through recycling schemes means avoiding penalties, fines or worse.
  • Saving energy – producing some recycled products eg aluminium, uses far less energy than making straight from raw materials.

Disadvantages of recycling business waste

  • Best worst option – recycling your business waste may be better for the environment than disposal, however either reducing your business waste or reusing your business waste is preferable to recycling.
  • Space for recycling – collection and sorting of waste materials for recycling requires space which may be difficult to find in your business premises.  Recycling contractors may be able to make more regular collections to help.
  • Recycling costs – using a waste contractor to collect waste for recycling will cost your business money, if not to the same level as disposal to landfill; reducing your business waste in the first place will cut down these costs.
  • Contamination when sorting – plastic containers in food waste or different materials in glass waste can affect the quality of your recycling collections which can increase treatment costs; it takes time and effort to eliminate contamination.
  • Staff buy-in – making a recycling system work for your business requires time and effort to get all employees and management sold on the advantages.

At all stages from production to transport to dealing with recycling waste you should be aware of your duty of care for business waste.

Recycle your business waste

Separate and store business waste for recycling. 

You should separate waste materials into different types (paper and cardboard, plastics, metals, etc) for storage, transport and recycling. You should store your waste securely in sealed, labelled containers ready for recycling or disposal.You should check whether you need a permit or exemption if you are storing your own waste for recycling or disposal.

Check if you have hazardous waste

Hazardous waste may be harmful to human health or the environment. It is not usually suitable for in-house recycling, as there are strict controls on how you can store, transport and process it.

Prevent pollution during storage and transport

You must prevent waste from escaping and causing pollution. Take steps to prevent:

  • leaks from storage containers and tanks
  • wind-blown litter
  • waste escaping during transport
  • leaks from waste processing machinery, for example hydraulic oils from waste compactors

Be aware that some materials you store for recycling can contaminate land and you could be responsible for clean up costs. For example, poorly handled fluorescent tubes could smash, spreading mercury across your site.

Separating and storing waste

Store waste in areas that can contain a leak or spill and are isolated from surface water drainage systems.

Label containment areas or bins for different materials and activities. Consider using colour coding for quick identification, eg red for hazardous waste and green for glass.

Do not mix any hazardous wastes with other waste or you will then need to dispose of all of it as hazardous waste.

If possible, remove contaminants such as metal staples or adhesive tape from materials before recycling. This could make your materials more valuable as they will require less treatment.

Separate and store plastics according to their grade and type. The three most common types of recyclable plastic are:

  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • high density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

You will need to agree with your waste management contractor how you separate your waste for collection.

Compacting waste

If you have a large amount of waste, use a baler or compactor to crush materials into blocks or bales. This allows you to transport larger volumes in one go thus saving you money.

If you do compact your waste, you should:

  • drain and clean waste containers that held liquid – eg drums, plastic bottles and cartons, before you compact them
  • keep paper and card dry to prevent polluting run-off from the compactor
  • separate the area around the compactor from surface water drains to prevent pollution – drainage should go to a foul sewer with permission from the appropriate Authority.
  • stack blocks of baled materials securely so they won’t fall over and spill materials around your site
  • move blocks of baled materials around your site carefully – roughly handled bales may split, spilling materials around your site

You may need to register an exemption from waste management licensing before you can use your baler or compactor. You should contact the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for more information.

Recycle your business waste

Recycling waste in the hospitality industry

Businesses in the hospitality industry can recycle significant quantities of materials. For instance, pubs could reduce the weight of their waste by 30%, hotels by 16% and nightclubs by 98%.

Recycling your waste can:

  • lower your waste management costs, especially if you often dispose of heavy materials such as glass
  • save space and reduce clutter
  • improve your environmental credentials
  • reduce your impact on the environment

However, you should still make sure you comply with waste legislation.

What can you recycle?

Materials that you can recycle include:

  • glass bottles and jars
  • cardboard
  • plastic bottles
  • food and drink cans
  • printer cartridges
  • electrical items
  • batteries

Finding a recycling waste contractor

You should consider the following questions when looking for a waste contractor suitable for your recycling needs:

  • What materials will you recycle?
  • Do you want the materials collected by the waste contractor or can you transport them to the waste facility
  • Is the service suitable for the size of your business? If you produce very little waste, you may not need a weekly scheduled collection.
  • How will you collect and store the materials for recycling?
  • How will you pay for the service? For example, is there an annual charge or a fee each time containers are emptied?
  • How will your glass be collected? It will normally be best to separate different colours at your site.

Setting up a recycling scheme

Once you have found a suitable waste contractor, the next step is to consider how a recycling scheme will work in your business. This includes:

  • deciding on the location and labelling of recycling containers
  • arranging the collection schedule with the contractor
  • employee involvement and training – staff members must understand what materials are being recycled and where they should put them
  • launch and promotion – so that staff are clear about when to start using the service

Recycle your business waste

Recycling options for your business

You have three options when recycling your business waste:

  • trade it with others
  • deposit it at a recycling depot
  • have it collected

Using a recycling depot

Taking materials to a recycling depot is a simple and inexpensive method of recycling waste that you cannot reuse or recondition. Most supermarkets have recycling banks for metal, plastic, glass and paper waste and your local council civic amenity site may have larger facilities for used electrical equipment.

You need to do four things to implement this type of recycling policy:

  1. appoint someone to be responsible for taking waste to the recycling point regularly
  2. set up sorting containers to keep different types of recyclable waste (such as paper, plastic and metal) separate
  3. make staff aware of your policy – Training!
  4. check with your local district council to see if they will accept your waste or if they have a licensed site where you can deposit it

Arranging for collection

Having recyclable materials collected can be more expensive, but is a convenient option for businesses producing large volumes of waste. You will need to think about:

  • finding a reliable collection service that is licensed to handle your type of waste
  • keeping your waste separate to make it easier for the collector to process – you may be provided with large crates, bins or boxes for this
  • ensure that the appropriate paperwork is completed correctly and ensure compliance with any local Government/Council regulations.

Reduce your business waste to save money

Waste reduction business benefits

Waste is a resource which can lead to greater business productivity if managed correctly. Shifting from methods of waste disposal to processes of waste reduction can bring a range of key benefits:

  • You can save money through more efficient use of raw materials, packaging and technology
  • It allows you to cut your waste disposal costs – for information on your responsibility for the disposal of waste, see our guide on how to dispose of your waste
  • Compliance with environmental legislation becomes cheaper and more straightforward
  • You can improve your reputation among customers, suppliers, potential employees and insurers, who may want to be sure that you take your environmental responsibilities seriously; you may also boost the morale of existing staff.

The amount of money you can save by managing waste depends on the nature of your work. For example, a manufacturer will probably be able to save more than an office-based business by reducing the amount of raw materials and waste water in production processes.

WRAP, the government programme which helps businesses improve their profits through waste reduction, estimates that businesses could on average save as much as £1,000 per employee.