Businesses across the country are breaching waste law due to chronic lack of awareness, new research shows

  • Almost half of the 1,000 businesses surveyed say they don’t know where all of their waste goes
  • Nearly one million fly-tipping incidents in England and Wales in a year, costing local authorities nearly £70 million.
  • ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign launched nationwide to help businesses understand responsibilities and raise awareness

Businesses across the country are struggling to do the right thing with their waste, with almost half admitting to practices that mean they are not complying fully with the law. A new survey shows that while 97% of businesses think they are complying with obligations under waste ‘Duty of Care’ law, many are leaving themselves open to unlimited fines, prosecution and potential closure due to their lack of awareness.

The national survey by ‘right Waste, right Place’ – mainly focused on small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) – found that 48% of businesses didn’t know where all their waste goes when it leaves site. Over a third also admitted to not being sure whether they completed or kept essential Waste Transfer Notes, a key requirement. Further, many were unsure on how to correctly classify all the waste materials they handled.

By not complying, businesses risk their waste falling into the hands of criminals, leading to environmental, health and safety risks through fly-tipping and illegal disposal. There were a total of 962,513 incidents of fly-tipping recorded across the country in 2014-15, costing local authorities £69 million in investigations and clearance. Putting the wrong waste in the wrong place can also cause problems with contamination of material destined for recycling, potentially costing businesses money.

In response, the ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign has been launched to help businesses understand what is expected of them. Centred on an interactive website ( and run by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the campaign is supported by the Environment Agency (EA) and Chartered Institution for Wastes Management (CIWM) and offers practical advice on how to manage waste safely and efficiently.

Sam Corp, Head of Regulation at the ESA, commented:

"These results back up what we suspected, that small businesses really want to do the right thing but many are ultimately not complying with the law. Nearly half told us that they’re unsure where the waste goes when it leaves them. Dealing with your waste can fall down the list of priorities when busy, but business people need to realise that they are risking significant penalties if they do not comply.

"Waste crime is not victimless. Dealing with the results is costing taxpayers millions of pounds each year and waste criminals can harm the environment and put local

communities in danger. By not complying, local businesses could well be helping facilitate such crime by not ensuring waste is disposed of safely.

"The ‘right Waste, right Place’ campaign is here to help. Small business owners are often stretched, multi-tasking and under pressure. Our campaign provides valuable and easy-to-understand materials that will help them put good practices in place that protect them from breaking the law."

The campaign has already attracted the support of a collection of official ‘ambassadors’ spanning various sectors, including local authorities, associations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, waste management companies, housebuilders, construction companies, and charities including the National Trust.

The latest campaign research is based on a survey of over 1000 businesses across the UK. Whilst highlighting lack of awareness about ‘Duty of Care’ waste legislation, it showed that many businesses are motivated and currently take steps to do the right thing.

Environmental and health considerations were the main drivers for businesses to comply, followed closely by legal requirements. A total of 89% also said they took steps to securely store their waste, while 83% were making some effort to separate the different types of waste created before disposing or recycling.

Steve Lee, chief executive of CIWM, said:

"We were pleased to see that the majority of the businesses we spoke to were motivated to do the right thing and had practices in place to split different types of waste such as electronic, hazardous, plastic and metal waste.

"Owners of SME businesses are expected to be an expert in everything – and waste law is no exception. Our campaign provides a helping hand to all those diligent company owners or sole traders who do not want to leave themselves open to risk. Crucially, the campaign does this in a simple and accessible way and we hope businesses find our resources useful when they’re making everyday decisions about their waste."

Marie Fallon, Head of Regulated Industry at the EA said:

"Helping businesses understand and comply with their Duty of Care is central in stopping waste getting into the hands of illegal waste operators. If more businesses know what to do with their waste, less will be illegally managed, less will be dangerously disposed of, and public money can be saved.

"It’s encouraging that this research shows businesses want to do the right thing, so providing information and guidance through the ‘right Waste, right Place’ website is a great way to help them achieve compliance, and we’d encourage businesses to engage with the campaign."

Businesses coming across suspected illegal waste management activities are reminded that they can report it anonymously to Crimestoppers online or by phoning: 0800 555 111."

Businesses can find simple guides, Need to Know cards, case studies and videos on this website.