Christian M. 5 min read

Waste minimisation and reduction for businesses

It’s written in the rules: UK businesses are legally required to prevent, minimise and reduce the volumes of waste they generate, in that order.

Although compliance checks for this basic requirement are rare, doing so will save your business trouble and costs and give you beneficial environmental credentials.

This short article explains the differences between waste prevention, reduction and minimisation, how your business can implement these strategies effectively, and why doing so ultimately benefits everyone.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • They’re different: Prevention is avoiding waste from happening, while reduction and minimisation are the broad and specific actions to reduce waste once it’s happened.
  • It’s a legal requirement: Waste reduction is a key priority of the waste hierarchy, making it your business’s duty to care over its waste.
  • Financial benefits: Waste reduction and minimisation directly reduce waste collection costs and help avoid non-compliance fines.
  • Simple waste reduction strategies include reusing cardboard boxes, installing a water refill station to avoid plastic waste, double-sided printing, and incentivising home-cooked lunches.

What is commercial waste minimisation and reduction?

Commercial waste minimisation and reduction are often used interchangeably but mean slightly different things. While minimisation refers to concrete actions, reduction groups them into broad strategies to reduce waste and their environmental impact.

Here’s more detail and some examples:

Waste minimisation: Actions to reduce the volume or toxicity of waste produced. For example, a restaurant may serve appropriately sized portions to reduce commercial food waste or a company may switch to less toxic chemicals to minimise hazardous waste.

Waste reduction: Broad strategies to minimise waste. Examples include commercial waste recycling, composting and energy recovery.

Commercial waste prevention vs minimisation vs reduction

Waste hierarchy
A generalised waste hierarchy showing prevention (and therefore avoidance) before minimisation (and therefore reduction).

While waste minimisation and reduction apply after the waste has been generated, prevention and avoidance are aimed to stop this waste from being generated in the first place. Minimisation sits lower than prevention in the waste hierarchy pyramid.

Read our detailed guide on commercial waste prevention for a full explanation of the prevention process.

How does a business reduce and minimise its commercial waste?

Now that your business has done its best effort to prevent waste from happening, it’s time to keep waste at a minimum through reduction and minimisation. Here are three examples to illustrate how these may be applied to your business:

A cafe that relies on a beverage that only comes in glass bottles

There’s a fancy cafe in a UK city whose income relies largely on selling a specialised beverage that only comes in glass bottles. They have already contacted the manufacturer to arrange a different container for these liquids and prevent the waste, but are awaiting a response.

Waste reduction strategy: The large volumes of glass waste generated by selling this beverage prompt the cafe to arrange for single-stream commercial glass recycling.

Waste minimisation strategy: The cafe sets up a network of accessible glass-specific recycling bins within the property to ensure staff can readily dispose of it while serving and avoid segregation mistakes or accidents. Staff receives training on why doing this correctly is essential for the business’s corporate responsibility credentials.

A warehouse with excess cardboard packaging

There’s a warehouse in the suburbs of a UK town that receives and stores packaged electronics in bulk. They receive and unpack the electronics to distribute to retailers, leaving them with a large quantity of perfectly usable boxes. They re-use and give much of it away to charities but are inevitably left with large volumes.

Waste reduction strategy: The warehouse arranges the collection of waste cardboard boxes with a commercial cardboard recycling facility and can even secure small compensation for it due to the large volumes.

Waste minimisation strategy: The warehouse reserves an enclosed yet accessible area of the warehouse and purchases a baler and compactor to ensure the cardboard waste takes less volume and fetches a higher price. Staff are trained, and the local council is notified.

A high-tech geophysics company with obsolete equipment

There’s a geophysical surveying firm in the rural UK that needs to replace its ageing detectors and antennae to remain competitive. They have contacted other companies in the UK and abroad, but unfortunately, the technology is too old, and the equipment has inevitably become obsolete.

Waste reduction strategy: The company contracts an ad-hoc commercial waste collection provider to transport the fleet of obsolete equipment to a commercial electronic waste recycling facility where it can be separated into its valuable components.

Waste minimisation strategy: A working day is given for staff to take inventory of their equipment and ensure 100% is taken for recycling. A specialised commercial waste provider is hired for the occasion to ensure compliance.

Why is it important to reduce and minimise commercial waste?

While these reasons become clear when you look at the concrete examples above, here’s a list of them:


UK waste regulations require businesses to minimise and reduce waste before disposal. Following these regulations ultimately reduces the environmental impacts of commercial waste and is of net benefit to everyone. Doing so also protects your business from any trouble with the regulators.

Reducing costs

There are several reasons why reducing the amount of waste your business generates will ultimately reduce costs.

Reducing landfill tax

This is simple: the less waste you send to landfill, the less you pay.

Waste reduction strategies and minimisation actions decrease the weight of waste sent to landfills and thus reduce your landfill tax liabilities, as these are paid per tonne of waste.

As of 2023, the standard rate for landfill tax is £102.10 per tonne for standard wastes and a lower rate of £3.25 per tonne for less polluting, inert wastes like soil or rocks. These rates are increasing year-on-year. (Source: UK Gov)

💡An invisible cost: Landfill taxes are paid by your commercial waste disposal provider but ultimately become part of your business waste collection costs.

Reducing waste collection costs

Commercial waste collection costs are based on several factors, including the volume and collection frequency of general waste and recyclables generated by your business. By generating less waste through reduction and minimisation, your business will save on these commercial waste collection costs.

Avoiding non-compliance fines

As explained earlier, businesses that do not take steps to reduce their waste can be charged for non-compliance if inspected by the regulator.

Additionally, upcoming regulations will further clarify non-compliance and empower regulatory agencies, increasing this risk in the future and making minimising waste a future-proof strategy.

💡 Statutory Fines: In England and Wales, unlimited fines are available for non-compliance, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the statuary maximum is £5,000. (Source: Right Place, Right Waste). Check out our guide to devolved commercial waste regulations.

Improving corporate image

Waste reduction significantly enhances a business’s corporate image by demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. It signals to customers, investors, employees and the community their dedication to preserving natural resources and reducing their environmental footprint.

Efficiency gains

By focusing on reducing waste, companies streamline their operations, leading to more efficient use of resources, including unnecessary material consumption and in-house waste management staff. The bottom line is that a reduced waste footprint can translate into leaner, more agile operational processes.

Waste minimisation and reduction – FAQs

Our business waste experts answer commonly asked questions on waste minimisation and reduction for businesses in the UK.

How can I use technology for waste minimisation?

Waste technologies such as waste tracking systems, digitisation for going paperless, and modern water filters for refilling can aid in monitoring, reducing, and managing waste more effectively.

See our section on waste minimisation and reduction for examples.

How much could you save?

Start saving now

If you have multiple properties, please put post code of your head office.