How to start a waste recycling business

As the world continues to put a greater emphasis on environmental issues, there are more opportunities for businesses to cater to those needs. 

It’s not just government agencies that must commit to environmental standards, nowadays there are many more upsides for businesses that choose to go green, whether it’s for regulatory purposes or just part of building a socially conscious public image. 

All this means that waste recycling looks to be a promising career prospect going forward. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you’ll need to know about how to start a waste recycling business, including:

  • Different kinds of waste recycling 
  • Regulations
  • How to register your waste recycling business
  • Permits
  • Making a business plan
  • Vehicles
  • Start-up costs
  • Insurance
  • Finding partners
  • Useful contacts
  • Managing your finances

Different kinds of waste recycling

First of all, let’s talk about what we actually mean by “waste recycling” because it can cover a lot of different areas that you can cover as a business. 

Waste paper and cardboard

Most paper and cardboard is completely recyclable. In the UK alone, several million tonnes of it are discarded every year, so recycling it is big business and great news for the environment. 

Plastic recycling

Plastic waste is a huge environmental problem at the moment. Because it doesn’t break down naturally, any plastic that ends up in landfills or oceans is going to be there for a long time.

Metal recycling

Metal is by far one of the most robust when it comes to recycling. Because it doesn’t lose any of its quality during the process, all kinds of metal can be recycled over and over again for different purposes.  

Electronic devices

Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling became mandatory in 2014 with the introduction of WEEE regulations. 

The regulations prevent electronic devices from ending up in landfills where the materials and batteries become more dangerous as they degrade. It covers pretty much all electronic devices, but you’ll mainly be dealing with things like computers, monitors, mobile phones, radios, TVs and electrical tools. 

Wood recycling

Wood is an incredibly versatile material for recycling. It can be easily reshaped and reused or turned into mulch for building materials

Glass recycling

Glass is another material that is perfect for recycling. It’s all completely reusable and never loses its quality, so it can be recycled pretty much endlessly into products that are as good as brand new. 

Clothing and textiles

Clothing has become a much larger issue in recent years. As the general public has started to catch on to the real environmental cost of “fast fashion”, there has been a real push to prevent the mountains of old clothing from filling up landfills. 

Luckily, around half of textiles that go into making clothes can be recycled. 

Bricks and inert waste recycling

Finally, a lot of waste from construction sites can be recycled into usable materials for other construction products. 

Rubble can be ground down into building materials, while old bricks can be reused for different projects or turned into brick chips for landscaping. 


Starting a waste recycling business involves adhering to regulations set out by the Waste Framework Directive and Environmental Protection Act. 

Under their regulations, both you and every business you work with:

  • Have a ‘Duty of Care’ requiring them to ensure their waste is disposed of safely and properly even after it has been passed on to another party.
  • Must ensure waste is transferred only to another authorised person.
  • Must transfer a written description of the waste so that the new carriers can properly perform their own Duty of Care.
  • Planning consent from their local authority or council. This can be difficult because local residents often protest waste projects in their area. 

For a full picture of the regulations you need to follow, and how to get them, get in touch with these government agencies:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 
  • The Environment Agency.
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – for vehicle licenses.
  • The Chartered Institute of Wastes Management and the Environmental Services Association – for training courses about Duty of Care and permits. 

How to register your waste recycling business

As a recycling business, you’ll need to register with HMRC for the proper license. The license applies to any business that plans to:

  • Transport waste (a carrier).
  • Buy, sell, or dispose of waste (a dealer).
  • arrange for someone else to buy, sell, or dispose of waste (a broker).

Registration costs £154, but operating without registration could lead to a fine of up to $5,000

When you register, you’ll need all of the following:

  • Names and dates of birth of the organisation’s executives, owners, directors or partners.
  • Details of any environmental offences they’ve committed.
  • A way to pay (for example, a debit or credit card).

When you register, HMRC will tell you whether your registration is upper or lower tier. Upper-tier registrations need to be renewed every 3 years for £105. You don’t need to renew if it’s a lower-tier registration. 

If any of your registration details change, you’ll need to contact the Environmental Agency to update your registration. You need to update them within 28 if any of the following things happen:

  • Your organisation’s contact details change
  • Your organisation’s management changes
  • Someone in management is convicted of an environmental offence
  • Your organisation changes what it does, for example, you’re registered as a waste carrier but start acting as a waste broker as well. This change will cost an additional £40. 

Your details need to be updated within 28 days.

You’ll need to apply for entirely new registration if:

  • your business structure has legally changed, like changing from a sole trader to a limited company
  • you’re changing from a lower tier to an upper-tier registration

A new registration will cost another £154. 

The guidance we’ve mentioned is specific to England, there are slightly different processes depending on where you live in the UK:


Any business that plans to use, recycle, treat, store, or dispose of waste also needs a specific permit from the Environmental agency

Once again, there are different issuing bodies for each region of the UK:

Both the registration process and permit application can be a little confusing, and the penalties for not getting it perfect are severe, so it’s probably a good idea to contact the Environmental Agency directly to make sure you’re doing everything right. 

Making a business plan

Every business should begin with a detailed business plan. It’ll clearly outline all your main goals while giving you step by step guidance on how to achieve those goals. 

Not only that, your business plan will be useful if you’re trying to secure investors. Whether you’re applying for a bank loan or working with a private individual, a business with a well-made plan is going to be a much safer bet for them.

At the very basic level, every business should be made up of:

  • Market research
  • A SWOT analysis
  • A budget

There’s a lot to unpack in those three steps, so check out our article, How to write a business plan, for a more detailed explanation. 

Start-up costs

Starting a waste recycling business will require a fair amount of investment. Most of your money will go into buying or renting a space big enough for your needs. You’ll need to bear in mind that each type of recycling will need different amounts of storage and machinery. 

Your other main start-up costs will include:

  • Vehicles
  • Machinery
  • Employee wages
  • Insurance and registration costs

Remember, a lot of these costs can be lower if you choose to subcontract or hire out labour and equipment, instead of buying everything yourself. 

When it comes to waste trucks, prices can vary a lot. A good one could cost anywhere between £10,000 to £35,000. The sort of trucks you should be looking at are:

  • Front-loaders –  They have an automated fork placed on the front operated by a driver. The waste is lifted into a large container then compacted by a packing blade.
  • Rear loaders – They’re generally used in residential areas. They have a large opening at the back where workers can throw in waste. 
  • Automated Side Loaders (ASL) – These are what most people think of when they picture a garbage truck. This loader picks up bins and empties them out with large mechanical arms. They normally work in residential areas on behalf of the local council. 
  • Pneumatic Collection WCVs – These trucks have a large crane with a mouthpiece that attaches to openings in the ground. It’s used for sucking up underground waste from any construction or installations stuck underground. 
  • Grapple trucks – Used to collect and transport bulky waste, anything too large or difficult to remove by hand. 


Most insurance brokers will offer tailored insurance policies depending on your industry, but generally, these are the most common insurance policies you’ll need:

  • Public liability insurance – if your business comes into contact with members of the public.
  • Employers’ liability insurance – if your business employs staff.
  • Business buildings insurance 
  • Business contents insurance – protects the contents of your business premises, your business equipment, and tools.
  • Stock insurance – if you hold any stock, whether on your premises or in storage.
  • Product liability insurance – protects you should a customer of yours suffer damage as a result of a faulty product you provide.
  • Personal accident insurance 
  • Business interruption insurance – if your business is disrupted by material damage caused by an event such as a flood or fire.
  • Business legal protection insurance – covers your commercial legal expenses and protects against the potential costs of legal action brought by or against your business.

Finding partners

You can’t start a waste recycling business without waste. To make your business worthwhile, you’re going to need large volumes of it too, so finding partners is essential. 

As part of your market research, you should contact local businesses and organisations to see if they’d be interested in a partnership. Some good places to start would be:

  • Local councils
  • Construction companies
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Government buildings – schools, prisons, libraries, museums.

Useful contacts

For everything we’ve mentioned so far, here’s the contact information for all the departments you’ll need to get in touch with. 


Telephone: 03708 506 506

Telephone: 03459 33 55 77


Telephone: 01604 620426


Phone: 0207 824 8882

Manage your finances with a simple app

Financial management can be stressful and time-consuming when you’re self-employed. That’s why thousands of business owners use the Countingup app to make their financial admin easier. 

Countingup is the business current account with built-in accounting software that allows you to manage all your financial data in one place. With features like automatic expense categorisation, invoicing on the go, receipt capture tools, tax estimates, and cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances wherever you are. 

You can also share your bookkeeping with your accountant instantly without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies. Seamless, simple, and straightforward! 

Find out more here.