Waste in the United Kingdom

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Rubbish in a farm near Totteridge
Spoiled footpath in Brede, East Sussex
Man scavenging food in London
Loading garbage in Maida Vale

It is estimated that 290 million tonnes of waste was produced in the United Kingdom in 2008 but volumes are declining.[1] In 2012 municipal solid waste generation was almost 30 million tonnes, according to Waste Atlas Platform.[2]

The National Waste Strategy is a policy of the government, and in particular the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), intended to foster a move to sustainability in waste management within Great Britain.

Food waste[edit]

Several pigs arranged in a semi-circle at the foreground, looking towards the centre and the words "Save Kitchen Waste to feed the Pigs!". "Thanks" is printed letter-by-letter along their backs. Instructions at bottom right ask for kitchen waste to be kept dry and free from glass, metal, bones, paper etc. Opposite, it says "it also feeds poultry" and that "Your Council will collect"
During World War II, posters advised on a number of issues, including that of food waste. By 1940, legislation was passed to make the wasting of food an offence due to the food shortages during wartime.

Since 1915, food waste has been identified as a considerable problem and has been the subject of ongoing media attention, intensifying with the launch of the "Love Food, Hate Waste" campaign in 2007. Food waste has been discussed in newspaper articles, news reports and television programmes, which have increased awareness of it as a public issue. To tackle waste issues, encompassing food waste, the government-funded "Waste & Resources Action Programme" (WRAP) was created in 2000.

The main and most common method of disposal in the United Kingdom is landfill. Other methods are also used such as Incineration and anaerobic digestion. Out of all of the waste that was from household, commercial and industrial waste, approximately 57%[3] of the waste was disposed in landfill sites. In addition some waste from sewage sludge, mining waste, and quarrying waste are moved to landfill sites. Landfill has been the most efficient way of disposal in the UK, as of in 1994 there were approximately 4000 landfill sites[4]. The biggest problem is that these landfills cannot be used forever, and the UK must find a viable solution for the future. Preferably a method that does not harm the environment.

The Greater London has a number of waste disposal authorities. These groups of authorities are responsible for waste collection and disposal. Before 1986 and the abolition of the Greater London Council, they were called the waste authority for Greater London. This council is essential for the UK because the council is made up of councilors who care about the environment. These councilors are also nominated from the borough councils. The council are funded by a levy on the local authorities. The main goal of these authorities is to be responsible to protect the environment from disposal and to govern those who put the environment at risk. This is very important as disposal can do a lot of damage to the environment.   

Other Types of Waste[edit]

Household Waste

Throughout the country, the average person generates a little over one thousand pounds of waste per year.  This average varies city to city-ranging from seven hundred to slightly over thirteen hundred pounds per person a year.[5]  These averages can be equivalent to ten times a person’s body weight.  As this might seem like a lot, household waste only accounts for nearly ten percent of the total waste produced in the United Kingdom.

However, this ten percent of waste is the most feasible to put towards recycling efforts,  being that the act of recycling is most practicable in the common household. There has been an increase in the percent of recycling in households throughout the years.  The need for more efficient and widespread curbside recycling services would allow this increase to continue and become more effective. There are new frameworks being processed that seek to help increase recycling efforts among the people of the United Kingdom.  

Business Waste

This is where the majority of the United Kingdom’s waste production is coming from.  Commercial, industrial and construction businesses produce close to six times the amount that households produce per tonne.  It can be broken down like this:

  • Commercial services such as retail stores and convenience stores where we buy products account for nearly one tonne
  • The industries that produce and make the goods that we buy account for two tonnes
  • The construction industry accounts for three tonnes

The construction industry produces over one hundred million tonnes per year which makes it one of the biggest sectors of waste production.  It is these industries responsibility to continue seeking more efficient ways of managing their waste productions. Good waste practices are the solution that these industries need in order to can create a good green image for the company which can entice new customers for the business.  

Fly Tipping

This is the illegal dumping of waste, most commonly found among roadways or abandon areas,  which has been increasing and becoming a problem within parts of the UK. Household items are the most commonly found items among incidents.  In 2016 there was around one million fly tipping incidents which was more than a 5% increase from the previous year.[6] Majority of the culprits are individuals who are unwilling to pay or allocate the time to properly dispose of their waste.  The most common size load was equivalent to the size of a small work van. These incidents threaten human health as it pollutes the air and harms the environment significantly. It was estimated that the cost of clearance of this waste by officials was over sixty million dollars.  Penalties and regulations have became significantly more harsh in order to deal with this issue.[6]

Hazardous Waste

This waste is produced mainly from mining and minerals as well as any other unaffiliated oil or oily water.  This includes substances such as asbestos, solvents, pesticides, oils etc. They account for the lowest percentage of waste accumulated in the UK, however can be the most harmful if not properly treated and managed. [7] This waste is mainly location oriented.  Meaning many places may not produce this type of waste at all while others specialize in it.          


Landfills in the United Kingdom are historically very important resources for waste disposal. As it was so important it has become excessively used to the point where some landfills are at capacity. This is because before the 1980s the UK government previously used the “dilute and disperse” method of waste. The UK is now looking for options to reduce the levels of their landfill sites through legislation.   This is a United Kingdom national strategy of which member states set up methods to target biodegradable materials in landfills. These methods include and are mainly composed of recycling, composting, and biogas production.

Waste to energy[edit]

There are a number of Waste-to-energy power plants in the UK especially in England. Notable plants include:

Waste by country[edit]



In Scotland in 1993, 14 million tons of waste was produced. 100,000 tons was toxic waste and 260,000 tons was controlled waste from other parts of Britain and abroad. 45% of the special waste was in liquid form and 18% was asbestos - radioactive waste was not included. Of the controlled waste, 48% came from the demolition of buildings, 22% from industry, 17% from households and 13% from business - only 3% were recycled. Ninety percent of controlled waste was buried in landfill sites and produced 2 million tons of methane gas. 1.5% was burned in incinerators and 1.5% were exported to be disposed of or recycled. There are 900 disposal sites in Scotland.[citation needed]

There are very few vacant or derelict land sites in the north east of Scotland, as there are few traditional heavy industries or coal/mineral extraction sites. However some areas are contaminated by aromatic hydrocarbons (500.25 cubic meters).[citation needed]


Notable waste issues[edit]

  • The Bawtry gasworks contamination involved the contamination of land at Bawtry, South Yorkshire, England with hazardous by-products from the manufacture of coal gas.
  • The Spodden Valley asbestos controversy arose in May 2004 when approximately 72 acres (290,000 m2) of land in Spodden Valley in Rochdale, England, formerly used by Turner Brothers Asbestos Company (later known as Turner & Newall), and the site of the world's largest asbestos textile factory, was sold to MMC Estates, a property developer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Waste Data Overview" (PDF). Defra. June 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2012.
  2. ^ Waste Atlas (2012). Country Data: UNITED KINGDOM
  3. ^ "Atmosphere, Climate & Environment Information Programme". www.lordgrey.org.uk. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  4. ^ "Atmosphere, Climate & Environment Information Programme". www.lordgrey.org.uk. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  5. ^ "Waste Fact Sheet" (PDF). Emergency Agency. 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Research Briefings". researchbriefings.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  7. ^ "Hazardous waste". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2019-04-18.

External links[edit]