The study of 143 premises was sponsored by Friends of the Earth, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and the Environment and Trade and Industry Departments. The results probably reflect what, at best, is being achieved in commercial waste recycling nation-wide.
Annual commercial waste generation in the UK amounts to 14 million tonnes, compared with 21 million tonnes of domestic waste. Commercial waste is more homogeneous and therefore easier to recycle.
Of the 127,500 tonnes of commercial waste generated in Sheffield in 1990, 41% was food waste. The "recyclable" fraction was a further 48%. This included paper (18%), wood (10%), plastic (6.5%), glass (3.5%), metal (3%) and cardboard (2.5%). The corresponding recycling rates were 10.5% for paper, 0% for wood, 6% for plastic and glass, 46% for metal and 54% for card. Only 7% of metal cans were recycled.
Among individual sectors (see table ), not one tonne of waste was recycled by banking and insurance, and most others failed to achieve a 10% recycling rate. The hotel and catering trade recycled only 18% of its glass bottles. Retailers recycled none of the 6,000 tonnes of wood used in transit packaging and only 13% of transit plastic. However, they achieved a 75% cardboard recycling rate.
The report concludes that "the recycling potential of commercial waste is substantial but as yet largely unrecognised." The firms surveyed identified the main barrier as a lack of storage and separation facilities. Some did not have the space while others lacked bins - or perhaps had not bothered to obtain them.
Many of the obstacles, Midland believes, can be overcome by informing businesses of how much waste needs to be generated before a recycler will collect it; how confidential waste will be treated; how waste can be separated with the minimum of effort; sources of recycling containers; collectors of recyclable wastes; and the location of nearby recycling facilities.