That’s the conclusion of a new nationwide survey by waste and recycling company Biffa, which found that only 20% of small businesses have a separate collection system in place for the likes of light bulbs, aerosols, batteries and oily rags. (Scroll down for video).

The 2005 Hazardous Waste Regulations require that items that are damaging to people or the environment should all be collected separately from other waste, but 45% of the survey’s respondents are unaware that they could face heavy fines for not doing so.

“The problem arises because many small businesses are only generating tiny amounts of hazardous wastes, so they don’t think putting it in the normal rubbish bin is a problem,” said Biffa’s chief executive Ian Wakelin.

“But if your company throws out an old computer, polish cans or even a tin of leftover paint, by law they need to be treated properly.

“What’s more, when an item of hazardous waste is incorrectly thrown into the recycling, it can result in the whole container having to go to landfill. It’s a shame to have to do that when people have tried hard to recycle the right items. The best thing to do is to get informed.”

Almost a third (32%) of the survey’s 1,000 respondents said they were not confident their employees knew how to identify and dispose of hazardous waste correctly, with materials such as plastic (28%) and glass (25%) incorrectly identified as being types of hazardous waste.

Lightbulb moment

The survey results come at the same time as a new report from light manufacturer Osram, which found that UK businesses are risking employee health as well as fines by incorrectly recycling light bulbs and fittings.

Commenting on that report’s findings, Nigel Harvey, chief executive of lighting-disposal compliance firm Recolight, said: “We find that larger businesses generally have plans in place to responsibly and safely recycle their lighting. It’s the sizeable SME market, and organisations with smaller quantities of waste lamps, that sometimes resort to refuse bins.

“Handling and disposing of waste lamps inappropriately can expose employees to hazardous waste like mercury, as well as being illegal. With developments such as our postcode-searching function, a collection point is never more than 20 miles away for lamps to be carefully recycled.”

Osram has provided a set of guidelines to help with safe disposal of broken fluorescent lamps. The guidelines include: –

  • Making sure to disconnect the lamp or luminaire from any electric power
  • Opening the windows and leave the room for 10 to 15 minutes
  • Thoroughly sweeping the surface to collect all lamp parts
  • After ventilation, gathering the remaining small pieces with a disposable cloth or adhesive tape.
  • When using a vacuum cleaner, making sure to immediately remove the bag
  • Collecting the lamp pieces in a sealed bag or container and bringing it to the next collection point for waste lamps

VIDEO: How to manage hazardous waste

Brad Allen

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