The Importance of Waste Segregation

Environmental Problems

Waste is a massive problem. World Bank estimates show that, globally, we produce approximately 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste each year. However, at least 33% of that waste is not managed in an environmentally sound manner — and that’s an extremely conservative estimate. The importance of waste segregation is something that we can no longer afford to ignore.

The situation is much the same in the UK. In 2018, only 44.1% of municipal waste was successfully recycled. Admittedly, this was an increase from the rate of 43.8% in the previous year. Low recycling rates can be largely attributed to inadequate infrastructure for processing our rubbish, which has, historically, been sent overseas to countries like China for processing. But with China enacting a ban on foreign paper and plastic waste imports, the UK faces the risk of having a waste treatment capacity shortage of up to 6 million tonnes by 2030. 

Fortunately, the UK government has committed to an ambitious 65% municipal recycling rate by 2035, adopting a large part of the European Union’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) into UK law. The initiative also seeks to ensure that no more than 10% of municipal waste ends up in landfills.

To achieve these recycling targets, both households and commercial organisations will have to do their part by accurately segregating their waste. For businesses, sorting the trade waste they produce is a critical component of an effective reuse and recycling system.

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UK Laws

UK law also requires businesses to be responsible for their trade waste by properly storing and sorting it. More specifically, businesses are expected to do the following:

  • Keep waste in a secure area.
  • Store trade waste in containers that will prevent waste from escaping.
  • Label waste containers clearly to indicate the type of waste they contain.
  • Use waterproof containers if rain can cause waste to leak contaminated run-off.

Businesses that handle hazardous waste also have extra storage and sorting responsibilities. For starters, they need to store hazardous wastes separately to ensure they don’t contaminate each other. Hazardous waste items such as batteries, electrical appliances, light bulbs and electronics should be labelled accordingly to make it easier to recycle them. 

The Importance of Waste Segregation — Why You Should Sort Your Waste

Waste segregation is the sorting and separation of waste types to facilitate recycling and correct onward disposal. When waste is sorted correctly, it can save your company money. 

Waste segregation should be based on:

  • The type of waste
  • The most appropriate treatment and disposal

Sorting your waste makes it easier to understand how to reduce your general waste output, identify items that can be reused and set aside items that should be recycled. Beyond that, however, there’s also a moral imperative to be responsible for how you handle your trade waste.

Failing to segregate trade waste properly means that it will end up mixed in landfills the same way it was mixed in your bins. Waste items like food scraps, paper and liquid waste can mix and decompose, releasing run-off into the soil and harmful gas into the atmosphere.

The law also specifically states that it is illegal to mix hazardous waste or POPs waste — waste with high levels of persistent organic pollutants — with either other hazardous waste or non-hazardous waste. 

For businesses, the benefits of proper waste segregation include:

  • Lower Waste CostsMixing waste streams can be costly. Hazardous waste and general waste are far more expensive to dispose of than dry mixed recycling due to chemicals and biological contaminants. So, mixing clean recyclable items with hazardous waste means you’re paying more to dispose of your waste. 
  • Increased Recycling Rate: Waste segregation practices and a workforce that understand the importance of sorting waste prevents items suitable for recycling from being thrown away with general waste. 
  • Potential Revenue Streams: Waste segregation enables you to identify valuable materials such as metals, cardboard and plastics and sell them to achieve the highest available rebate value.
  • Reduced Landfill Impact: Segregating your waste allows your business to recycle more items, preventing them from ending up in landfills. This, in turn, reduces your overall impact on the environment.

Proper Waste Segregation Extends to Your Employees

Educating staff on correct waste disposal in your company isn’t just about creating waste policies but also about educating your employees. For instance, mixing food with cardboard or plastics (the latter being perfectly recyclable) could be avoided with sufficient training.

To support your workforce, you can also use colour-coding and clear signages on bins across your facilities to make it easy for staff to place waste in their proper receptacles. 

While there are different ways of classifying trade waste, businesses can refer to the UK government’s guidance on waste categories. 

1. Construction and Demolition Waste

The UK’s construction sector is the country’s largest user of raw materials, and it also produces the largest waste stream in terms of gross tonnage. In 2016, England’s total waste output was estimated to be 189 million tonnes — approximately 61% (120 million tonnes) came from construction, demolition and excavation.

Construction and demolition waste can be further segregated into the following categories:

  • Insulation and asbestos materials
  • Concrete, bricks, tiles and ceramics
  • Wood, glass and plastic (excluding packaging waste)
  • Bituminous mixtures (also known as asphalt mixtures), tar and coal tar
  • Metallic waste and cables
  • Soil and contaminated soil
  • Cement
  • Paints and varnishes
  • Sealants and adhesives

2. Vehicle and Oily Waste

Vehicle and oily waste refer to end-of-life vehicles that are no longer usable and their components and consumable items, such as:

  • Tyres
  • Air filters
  • Airbags
  • Brake pads
  • Catalytic converters
  • Car batteries
  • Vehicle glass, plastic and ferrous and nonferrous metals.

This category also includes liquid waste from vehicles, such as:

  • Hydraulic oils
  • Engine, gear and lubricating oils
  • Insulating and transmission oils
  • Fuels, brake fluids and antifreeze.

Liquid waste should be stored in tanks or barrels to ensure its safe removal for treatment and reuse.

3. Electrical Equipment 

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) covers a wide range of waste types, such as:

  • Electrical equipment with hazardous materials or POPs waste, which include insulation foam, printed circuit boards, cables, plastic casings and flame retardants.
  • TVs, computer display monitors, projectors and other display devices.
  • Industrial-grade refrigerators, freezers, chillers and air-conditioning units.
  • Industrial fans.
  • Washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, cooking appliances and other large domestic appliances.
  • Household-type electrical appliances.
  • Lightbulbs and lamps.
  • Batteries.

4. Dry Mixed Recycling (Packaging Waste and Recyclables)

Dry mixed recycling is a broad term that refers to a wide range of clean recycling waste that’s easily reused or reformed into other goods or their core materials. Examples of dry mixed recycling items include:

  • Clean packaging materials such as boxes, containers, bottles and jars.
  • Paper materials such as cardboard, newspapers and magazines.
  • Empty packaging materials contaminated with hazardous materials, for example, paint cans and intermediate bulk containers.
  • Plastic containers such as water bottles, milk cartons and sandwich packaging

5. Healthcare Waste and Related Waste (Hazardous Waste)

The health and contamination risks associated with healthcare or clinical waste — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — make it particularly important to sort these waste items properly. Common examples of clinical waste items include:

  • Outer dressing and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns and gloves that have not been contaminated with bodily fluids.
  • Hygiene waste such as nappies and incontinence pads.
  • Hazardous and non-hazardous waste medicines.
  • Hazardous and non-hazardous plaster waste, such as moulds from dental clinics and the like.

6. Special Mention: Packaging Waste and Recyclables

Although not mentioned in the government’s guidance, organic waste is another common waste category that presents problems if not sorted properly. With more than 4.5 million tonnes of food wasted every year, businesses need to control their use of food resources and ensure that any rotten meat, vegetable cuttings and other food waste is sorted and forwarded to a food recycling facility. 

Work with a Waste Management Specialist to Analyse Your Waste Streams

Proper waste segregation plays a vital role in any business’s ability to improve its recycling rate and achieve its zero to landfill goals. At Axil, we manage over 10 categories of waste, including general recycling materials, food and clinical waste. Our bespoke waste stream services map out your organisation’s disposal, storage and recycling needs to come up with the best and most efficient waste management solution.

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