What Happens to Skip Waste?

What Happens to Skip Waste?

Rubbish skips are designed to make waste disposal as convenient as possible. Since most of us cannot transport large amounts without professional help, it’s no wonder that over 17 million skips are hired every year in the UK for domestic use alone.

What happens to general waste from skips really depends on the company that you hire your waste skip from. Most skip companies have drivers who take skip waste to a waste transfer station for temporary deposition before they are taken for incineration, to a landfill, a hazardous waste facility or for recycling. Some companies however will take skip rubbish straight to a landfill site, a practise known as fly tipping.

It’s no secret that landfill sites have a detrimental effect on the environment, which is why ethical waste disposal is so important. With the UK being the 3rd highest contributor to landfills across Europe, maybe it’s time we start considering whether there might be better ways to dispose of our waste.

Waste Transfer Station Sorting Process

Different types of waste can be disposed in different ways, which is why it is all taken to a waste transfer station where it can be sorted into categories. The sorting process of a transfer centre will vary from place to place depending on their budget, facilities and ethics. The basic process however involves the skip waste being collected by drivers and brought to the waste transfer station, where it is tipped into a larger pile. This pile then has to be sorted into different waste streams, which is done in a variety of ways.

First of all, larger items have to be removed for separate disposal. The remaining pile might then be sorted through labour intensive methods such as hand picking operations or by highly mechanised and more complex processes. Mechanised sorting might include equipment such as trammels (rotating mesh screens that different sizes of debris can fall through), blowers to blow light waste into a separate area and magnets to extract metals.

This sorting process is crucial because it helps to determine what will happen to the waste and whether it will be reused. Most often, the more thorough the separation process at the transfer station, the more waste can be recycled or reused.

What Happens to Sorted Skip Waste?

The things you dispose of in your rubbish skip are often more useful than you might realise. After being sorted at the waste transfer station, certain materials still have value elsewhere:

1. Garden waste and cuttings can be sent on to specialist facilities to create compost that can be used in garden and landscaping projects.

2. Building materials such as bricks, concrete and glass might be recovered and crushed to create a material that can be used as a sub-base material in future building projects.

3. Scrap metal is in high demand across the world, so will be separated into different metal types so it can be recycled and turned into new items, or transported to countries such as China, India and Brazil.

4. Old electrical goods and computers can also be recycled.

5. Some waste can also be converted into energy (WtE) that will generate electricity or heat.

Once the skip rubbish has been sorted at the transfer station, it will be collected by other companies or haulage operators. If your waste cannot be reused and has to be disposed of straight away, it will be collected to go to landfill or to be incinerated. If your waste can be reused, it will be taken on to a specialist facility that can develop the materials for further use.

Why Ethical Waste Disposal Is so Important

In Europe, we use 16 tonnes of material per person every year, and 6 tonnes of this becomes waste. The amount of waste that ends up being dumped in landfills is problematic because of the damage the decomposition gases cause to the environment. It also takes such a huge amount of time for rubbish to decompose; plastic items for example can take as long as 1000 years to decompose in landfills, glass that ends up in landfills instead of being recycled can take millions of years to decompose and paper takes 2-6 weeks to completely decompose. And because decomposition is such a slow process, we are rapidly running out of space for landfills.

In the UK over the past couple of decades, there have been significant changes to how we deal with our waste. Some of this change is due to new laws in the EU and within the UK implemented to maximise the amount that we are recycling. The EU has steadily increased landfill tax to encourage councils to recycle more waste as well as introducing other regulations on waste disposal. And it’s been having an effect. In 2009, 90% of our rubbish went to landfill which has since lowered to less than 50%.

Despite these improvements, less than half of the waste in the UK is recycled and we are the 3rd worst offender for waste going to landfill across Europe. Considering the environmental risks and lack of space caused by landfill use, it is essential that we begin to consider finding more ethical ways of disposing of our waste.

And soon, we might not have any choice. In the UK, we export a lot of our non-recyclable waste to Europe and further afield; in 2016 we exported more than 3m tonnes. Our ability to send our waste over to other countries may soon change. China has recently cracked down on imports of plastic, and a hard Brexit deal may restrict our ability to send our waste over to European countries such as Sweden that use our waste to generate heat and electricity in specialist EfW power plants. If we are going to be unable to send our waste abroad, it is essential that we find other methods of rubbish disposal.

How Do the UK and the Rest of Europe Dispose of Its Waste?

UK Waste Management 2007-2017

The graph below shows how we have disposed of our waste between the years 2007 and 2017. The data shows a positive shift in how we manage our waste, which has moved from the highest percentage of waste going to landfill to the highest percentage of waste going to waste treatment. There has also been about a 30% decrease in the amount of waste sent to landfill between the years 2007 and 2017.

There was steady growth in our use of waste treatment between 2007 and 2014, which spiked between the years 2014 and 2017. Similarly, between these years metal recovery rose back towards the figure it hit in 2011 and waste incineration also spiked. This is likely because of the new waste regulations introduced within the UK on January 1st 2015 that required businesses and households to fully segregate their waste into general and recyclables.


The graph does show that there has been some improvement in how the UK manages its waste, however there’s still a long way to go.

Municipal Waste Treatment in EU Countries 1995-2015

Municipal waste is general rubbish disposed of by the public and collected by local authorities. Municipal waste accounts for around just 10% of total waste generated; however it has a high importance because of its composition and its link to society’s consumption patterns.

The graph below shows movement towards less land filling in Europe as counties move towards alternative ways of treating waste. Between the years 2005-16, landfill use has fallen by as much as 5.4% per year on average.

The changes shown in the graph reflect many of the changes in EU legislation that occurred between these years. The EU has introduced a number of directives which determine the UK’s domestic recycling policy. The 1999 Landfill Directive introduced by the EU demanded a reduction in the amount of waste being sent to landfill from 11.2 million tonnes (2010) to 7.46 million tonnes (2013). It is around this year on the graph that landfill use begins to take a steep decline.

Between the years 2005-16, landfill use fell by as much as 5.4% per year on average, and the percentage of landfill use compared with municipal waste generation in the EU-28 dropped from 64% to 24% in 2016. This reduction can partly be attributed to the implementation of EU legislation on packaging and packaging waste in 1994. By 2001, Member States had to recover a minimum of 50% by 16th July 2009 and to 35% by 16th July 2016. This has led to countries adopting different strategies to avoid sending the organic fraction of municipal waste to landfill, namely composting, incineration and pre-treatment such as mechanical-biological treatment.

In terms of what the future holds for the treatment of municipal waste, EU counties are now required to recycle at least 55% of their municipal waste by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035. Other approved measures include a 10% cap on landfill by 2035, mandatory separate collection of bio waste and stricter schemes to make producers pay for the collection of key recyclables.

The above data shows evident of efforts being made in the UK and the rest of Europe to turn towards ethical means of waste disposal. However, it could be said that these efforts are either not enough or have been implemented too late. Regardless of the progress we’ve made, consistent use of landfills in the past has left us with no choice but to change our waste disposal practises and turn to more sustainable methods.

Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Skip Company

To help ensure that you are practising ethical waste disposal when hiring a general waste skip, do your research when choosing a company. Each skip hire company will have different practises and principles that they follow when dealing with your skip waste. To help you out with the search, here are a few things to look out for when you hire a skip:

1. Use skip companies who openly practise ethical means of waste disposal. A company will usually state on their website if they dispose of your waste in an environmentally friendly way, and by reading their website you should get an insight into where exactly they take your rubbish.

2. Avoid hiring a skip container from companies who charge very low prices for their services. Hiring a skip can be expensive but it’s important to understand that lower prices often equate to the poor management of waste and bad disposal practises such as fly tipping.

3. You could also consider opting for local skip hire, which can help to reduce the logistical impacts of waste management. Local skip companies will have expert local knowledge that can enable streamlining in waste collection, which will reduce the vehicle fuel usage which contributes to CO2 emissions.