Operational Waste

It is estimated that the UK generates over 15m tonnes of commercial waste per year. The effective management of this waste is a critical component of any occupier’s operational cost management strategy, as well as sustainability strategy. Understanding, monitoring and managing the environmental impacts of waste generated is typically of lower priority compared to energy and carbon management.

However, there are clear, simple, opportunities relating to the design of on-site operational waste management regimes that can support an occupier’s commitment to reducing the environmental impacts of operational waste and associated disposal costs. This will also have the added benefit of communicating performance to staff, as well as wider stakeholders.


Implementing a responsible waste management strategy can deliver multiple benefits:

Reducing disposal costs and environmental impacts of waste by applying waste hierarchy to an on-site waste management regime. 


Demonstrating commitment and performance to stakeholders through on-site waste management regimes that apply the waste hierarchy and support meeting corporate targets.


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Principles for Responsible Waste Management

1. Review Existing Waste Management Regimes


The first step in setting operational waste management requirements should be to review existing waste management arrangements. This will help an occupier understand:

  • How waste is currently managed.
  • What options are feasible within the space.
  • Whether improvement opportunities exist.

A well-managed office should have an operational site waste management plan in place that defines the current waste management regime for the property. This should include:

  • Waste streams: dry mixed recycling, dedicated recycling streams, food waste, residual waste etc.
  • On-site equipment: bin sizes and numbers, bailers, compactors etc.
  • Storage arrangements.
  • Collection frequency.
  • Contractor service requirements: collection frequency, reporting requirements, destination per waste stream.
  • Historic data and performance.
  • Identified improvement opportunities.

The level of influence an occupier will be able to have over the waste management regimes within an office will greatly depend on the leasing arrangements.

  • For a single-let property, the occupier will likely have full control over both base-build and on-floor (back-of-house and front-of-house) waste management regimes and service provider control.
  • For a multi-let property, the occupier will be more restricted by the existing base-build (back-of-house) arrangements the property management team have in place. In such instances, improvement to base-build facilities will require engagement with the property owner / property management team.

2. Set an Operational Waste Management Strategy


The property owner’s and occupier’s respective operational waste management policies and targets, as well as existing operational waste management regimes, should be the starting point for the designer’s development of a strategy for waste storage and segregation facilities.

Any strategy should:

  • Follow the waste hierarchy and be geared towards the avoidance of landfill and where possible towards achieving “Zero to Direct Landfill” as a minimum.
  • Follow the principles set out in European Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC i.e. what is technically, environmentally and economically practicable [TEEP].
  • Give preference to maximising on-site segregation wherever possible.
  • Consider circular economy principles by identifying closed loop opportunities.

Waste management principles, by waste stream, are provided below to support a dialogue with relevant stakeholders (i.e. property owner, property management team and/or waste management service providers) regarding what services should be delivered or set as objectives.

Cardboard, Paper and Glass

  • Cardboard, paper and glass should be source separated on-site and managed for recycling. Consideration should be given to on-site bailing of regular large volumes of cardboard to reduce costs.
  • Where on-site segregation is not technically, environmentally and economically practicable then cardboard and paper should be included in a Dry Mixed Recycling collection. Glass should always be separate.


  • Plastic should be source separated on-site and managed for recycling.
  • Where on-site segregation is not technically, environmentally and economically practicable then Plastics should be included in a Dry Mixed Recycling collection.
  • Plastics come in many different varieties. Plastic bottles are always recyclable, many other types of plastic are not. Agree a clear specification with the waste management contractor.

Dry Mixed Recycling

  • All mixed recycling should be taken to a materials recycling facility (MRF).
  • The process efficiency performance of the MRF should be recorded and reported each month as part of monthly reporting returns to facilitate waste data verification and accurate reporting of waste management performance.
  • The fate of any reject material arising from the MRF should be reported as to whether it is subject to (in order of preference): Incineration (with energy recovery); incineration (without energy recovery); or landfill disposal.

Food Waste

  • Food waste should be segregated on-site and be disposed of on-site (via composting or aerobic digestion) or sent off-site for processing via an anaerobic digestion facility.

Residual Waste

  • Residual waste should be managed in such a manner to maximise energy recovery and landfill shall only be utilised as a last resort.
  • A waste audit of the residual waste stream should be undertaken at least annually (and quarterly for larger site contracts) to identify additional waste segregation opportunities.
  • Other Wastes
  • Electrical waste, batteries and fluorescent lamps must be diverted from general waste via re-use or specified recycling and recovery processes as required by legislation governing the management of hazardous waste. End destinations should be recorded to ensure a clear audit trail.
  • Sundry metals, wood and furniture arisings should be estimated and where appropriate arrangements made for their separate re-use or recycling. End destinations should be recorded to ensure a clear audit trail.
  • The fate of any reject material arising from any other sorting and / or recycling processes should be reported as to whether this is subject to (in order of preference): Incineration (with energy recovery); incineration (without energy recovery); or landfill disposal.

3. Define Appropriate ‘Back-of-House’ Requirements


The design team should review and recommend base-build (back-of-house) waste management facilities that are adequate based on the operational waste management strategy, and given known operational function and likely waste streams and volumes to be generated.

When determining the dedicated space and equipment requirements for the storage of segregated waste streams generated on-site, design teams should consider:

  • Receptacle types, size and number of units required.
  • Specialist equipment requirements such as compactors, bailers and weighbridges.
  • Receptacle cleaning requirements and associated water outlets, particularly for organic waste.  
  • Accessibility requirements for building occupants or facilities operators to deposit waste and for waste management service providers to collect waste.
  • Signage and labelling requirements to assist with segregation, storage and collection.

To support design teams in determining storage space provision requirements BREEAM Fit-out and Refurbishment Wst03 Operational Waste suggests the following minimum thresholds:

  • At least 2m² per 1000m² of net floor area for buildings < 5000m²
  • A minimum of 10m² for buildings ≥ 5000m²
  • An additional 2m² per 1000m² of net floor area where catering is provided (with an additional minimum of 10m² for buildings ≥ 5000m²).

In addition, the following measurement guidelines when determining size and accessibility criteria for the recyclable storage space:

  • Compactor dimensions: about the size of one car parking bay; 4.8 x 2.4m
  • Skip: the footprint of an 8 and 12 cubic yard skip measures 3.4m x 1.8m, therefore allow a minimum of 2.0m width and 4.0m length or 8m² area for the storage and access of such containers
  • Wheeled bins: 360 litre = 0.86m x 0.62/660 L= 1.2m x 0.7m/1100 L = 1.28m x 0.98m
  • Roll-on-roll-off containers: allow a minimum of 6.1m x 2.4m
  • Vehicle access: the following are dimensions for lorry types that are typically used to collect waste. Therefore, gate height/widths should be bigger than these measurements:
  1. Dustcart (26t GVW 6x2 rear steer): Length = 10.4m : Height = 3.6m : Width 2.6m
  2. Skip lorry (18t GVW 4x2): Length = 7.0 m : Height = 3.4m : Width 2.6m
  3. RoRo (26t GVW 6x2): Length = 7.4m : Travel Height = 4.0m : Operating Height 6.5m (dependent on container) : Width 2.6m
  4. Allow two lorry lengths in front of containers for access

4. Define Appropriate ‘Front-of-House’ Requirements


The occupier’s design team and owner’s facilities management team need to collaborate to identify the quantity and specification of individual bins across the floor plates of the new office fit-out. On-floor segregation and storage facilities will need to align with the building’s operational waste management plan and base-build (back-of-house) facilities.

The following responsible waste management principles should be considered when defining on-floor requirements:

  • Ensure bins match base-build (back-of-house) segregation requirements.
  • Ensure clear labelling and provide information to building users on the types of waste should be disposed of within each bin.
  • Provide dedicated space for bins at multiple locations across each floor plate.
  • Locate bin areas away from the general desk areas to promote occupant movement.
  • Locate bins for organic waste near tea points, kitchenette and kitchen/catering areas.
  • Provide suitable facilities for specialist waste, e.g. confidential, electrical, hazardous etc.

5. Embed Responsible Waste Management in Service Contracts


The success of waste management arrangements is dependent on the end destination waste management facility once waste leaves the building. Whilst out of scope of a fit-out, it’s important for an occupier and/or property manager to ensure responsible waste management principles are embedded within the waste management service provision.

The Managing Agent’s Partnership Improving UK Waste Management Practices: Procurement Specifications provides practical guidance regarding how such provisions can be integrated within waste management contracts.