The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste Part 2

The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste Part 2

The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste Part 2

After the popularity of The Mysterious Journeys of Hazardous Waste (Part One), we decided to follow up that edition by looking at some of the materials that didn’t make the cut.

In part one we focused on fluorescent tubes and batteries, explaining what happens to them once they ‘disappear’ after disposal.

In this piece we will be tackling paint, oils and toner cartridges.

Continuing the mission for integrity

As we explained in part one, behind the ‘black door’ of the waste industry, what happens to the items you dispose of is not very common knowledge. We believe that the better the information people have about the journeys their waste takes, the more likely they are to make intentional decisions to help it get recycled or disposed of responsibly. Out of sight, or off the site, is not out of mind, not for us.

At Enviro Waste, hazardous waste types come through our facilities, and that’s when the magic begins. Unlike paper, glass or aluminium, which is all easy to recycle and just has to be moved into a separate container, there are processes for hazardous waste that require some delicate care. We know there is a small minority of shady figures in our industry who will cut any corner and try to sweep these wastes under the proverbial rug, but we support the mission for integrity.

Why price is important in the hazardous waste journey

Remember, the cheaper the hazardous waste removal services, the more likely it is that something suspicious is happening. We know that there are cheaper options than Enviro Waste, but we also know there are few options that act as sustainably, responsibly and with the due diligence to bring in specialist partners for materials that are too hazardous for even us!

We are able to put the environment first, support the local community and economy, give to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Woodland Trust, provide a higher quality of customer service and account management, and offer the most comprehensive and unique solutions for our valued customers.

What happens to paint after disposal?

Let’s start by revealing that an estimated 55 million litres of paint are sent to landfill or incineration every year in the UK. The government, and DEFRA, were not best pleased about this, so in 2013 they imposed legislation to make sure hazardous waste is disposed of more carefully, with paint being an important part of that change.

Paint is forbidden from going to landfill, and so it ends up in the incinerator, most of the time. Paints that contain solvents are always classed as a hazardous waste, however dry plastic paint pots that don’t contain solvent can be recycled in the regular manner. For the liquid paint, there is another, more sustainable option.

The reuse and recycling of paint

There are several businesses in the UK who buy waste paint from businesses and individuals, and then reuse that paint in new mixtures. It must be done in a very precise manner, and often leads to the creation of different colours, however, it is possible to make paint that is up to 80% recycled content. Pigment, resin, solvent and additives generally make up the contents of paint, which is why it’s classed as hazardous, as some of these chemicals can seriously harm both people and the environment.

Whilst paint recycling is very small and niche in the UK, it does happen, in pockets, and is expected to grow as an industry, especially due to the  measurable environmental and sustainability gains, as there are fewer natural resources used, less wastewater in production and fewer carbon emissions; there’s also the potential for closed-loop recycling.

You will be fined if caught trying to dispose of paint illegally (or pouring down a sick or drain), so it’s good to know that you can throw away both emulsion and gloss in your bin, as long as you follow these rules:

  • Emulsion must be mixed with sand until it has been soaked up
  • Gloss must be left outside to dry and go hard

Reusing paint is not that hard, you can simply find someone who needs it, and give it to them, instead of sending it to landfill or incineration. If that fails, try using the Community RePaint network, who will take your excess paint for free.

Is it really possible to recycle oils?

We are going to be focusing on two different oils here – cooking, and engine.

Cooking oil

To start with, cooking oil can be, and is, very widely recycled in the UK. Restaurants, fast food outlets and takeaway food outlets often store their waste oil and have it collected by professionals. These companies then use that oil for energy, reducing the UK’s reliance on virgin fossil fuels. Disposing of oil in the bin or sink is very bad for the environment, is often illegal for businesses, and is expensive.

How is it recycled?

Through a very cool and sustainable filtration and sedimentation process, waste cooking oil is usually recovered and converted into a type of bioliquid that can be harnessed for carbon neutral electricity. After the initial sedimentation process, the oil sits for up to five weeks, at which point the sediment is removed, and what remains is a lighter and purer oil that can be used for energy.

Engine oil

When it comes to engine oil, a different approach must be taken, but it can still be recycled. For individuals, store your waste or surplus oil in a sealed container, and be sure not to mix it with anything else. At this point, you can simply drop it off at your local recycling centre.

For businesses, after the waste oil has been produced, the mysterious journey of this hazardous waste begins with a collection agent, such as ourselves, arriving in a suitable vehicle (fitted with a tank) to take it away.

Good news: Oil recycling is growing

The more widely oil is being recycled, the less likely it is to be dumped on land, in waterways and down drains, which is why from a sustainability and environmental point of view, it’s essential to take part in oil recycling to increase the demand for it. Small boilers, heaters and furnaces are most often the beneficiaries of recycled motor oil.

After collection, the oil is sent to a refinery, where it undergoes various degrees of cleaning, filtration and impurity removal. After cleaning, there is a separation process called fractioning, which pulls the different qualities of oils from the recycled oil source. Additives are then introduced to the different qualities of oil to make them ready for market. They must be tested rigorously throughout this process.

Toner cartridges – where do they go?

Also known as printer cartridges, or inkjet cartridges, these items are more closely linked to reuse than to recycling. Due to the clever way in which cartridges are designed, businesses who use a lot of them often store them up and then send them in a postbag to the manufacturer for refilling. This section is about when they become waste, however, because if they are being reused, we are happy.

Up until 2016, toner cartridges were not considered WEEE, but with regulations changing, their mysterious hazardous waste journey would change forever. The Environment Agency had to reassured users of cartridges that if they were being sent for reuse, they would not be considered as waste, and so would not require a waste transfer note. If the refilling company decides that the cartridge is beyond use, it is their waste responsibility and they become the waste producer, meaning they must obtain a waste transfer note.

Are toner cartridges even hazardous?

Toner cartridges aren’t always hazardous, which makes explaining what happens to them a little bit more difficult. However, if they are not hazardous, they can be cleaned and reused by the manufacturer, or if they are broken, since they are made mostly of plastic, they can be recycled.

When they are considered hazardous, which is dependent on the chemicals inside, each cartridge must be carefully dismantled, with the hazardous components treated safely. The materials are segregated and cleaned, before being sold into different markets, where they will be recycled to help the UK manufacturing industry.


Over the course of these two articles, we’ve covered a lot of ground, explaining how batteries get recycled, how fluorescent tubes are carefully treated, why paint can play an important part in UK reuse, how oil recycling is more accessible than most realise, and that toner cartridges are very recyclable.

We’ve been on a mission for many years to try and build the awareness, not only for our current or potential customers, but for our community too, that hazardous waste does play a role in recycling, and that landfill is not the automatic method many think it is. Our efforts are working, and more than ever there is a focus on being sustainable in business, it’s a focus that we’ve noticed and we are proud that the industry’s habits are becoming more responsible.