Waste Disposal and Recycling in the United Kingdom

Rubbish, trash, waste and garbage: how rubbish collection and recycling works in the UK...

The UK’s waste disposal and recycling system is controlled and organised by local councils, and paid for via Council Tax. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is ultimately responsible for setting waste management policy.

In most parts of the UK, rubbish collection is “kerbside”: collections are taken from the pavement outside a house or flat on a certain day every week or every fortnight. Waste must be sorted into colour-coded bins or boxes provided by the local council.

The details of collection are determined by each council: the collection schedule, the separation of waste and recycling, which types of waste are recycled, and the colour of the bins. In suburban and rural areas, one set of bins is allocated per household. In urban areas, it is more common to find one large set of bins per street.

The categories into which waste must be separated vary throughout the UK, but the most common are:

  • Landfill: waste that cannot be recycled
  • Food waste: organic food waste, usually including nutshells and teabags
  • Paper products: non-laminated copier paper, newspapers, card and cardboard
  • Plastics: most types of recyclable plastic, according to local guidelines
  • Glass: recyclable bottles and jars, but not window panes
  • Garden waste: leaves, plants, grass and prunings

Local authorities may refuse to collect waste if it has not been separated in accordance with their guidelines, and some issue fines. Typically, garden waste collections are only available in summer months, at request.

Large objects can be disposed of either arranging collection with the local council, or by taking them to a council-run tip or dump. Many local authorities give households a certain number of free collections each year, but disposing of large waste at a council tip or dump is free of charge.