Bulky waste collection – the ultimate guide
Here is our definitive guide to everything you ever wanted to know (and possibly a few things you didn’t) about getting rid of bulky waste. Whether you are a householder, DIY enthusiast, clutter free consultant, tradesperson, or office manager – there’s something here for everyone.
- Definition - what is bulky waste?
- Household vs commercial bulky waste ?
- Collection methods
- Types of collectors
- Price - how much does it cost?
- Regulation - duty of care & waste carriers license
Bulky Waste (sometimes referred to as junk or bulky rubbish) can broadly be defined as any material or item that you want to dispose of which you cannot sell or donate and cannot fit in your regular bin.
It can be categorised by how messy it is (Clean vs Dirty) and also whether it is Household or Commercial.
Looking first at the distinction between clean and dirty junk:
- Clean Junk – standalone items from within the home or office like furniture (eg. sofa, chair, wardrobe, table, desk, filing cabinet, mattress, garden bench), large appliances (e.g. fridge, dishwashers, washing machine, microwave, cooker, dryer, mower), soft furnishings (eg. duvet, curtains), packaging (eg. large cardboard boxes, polystyrene), and general bric-a-brac (eg. broken toys, old videos, magazines, exercise equipment); and
- Dirty Junk – messy, loose waste from home improvement and builder type work or bulky garden refuse. Examples include broken tiles, soil, bricks, rubble, pipes, doors, windows & window frames, plasterboard and drywall, MDF, kitchen and bathroom units, fence panels, carpet, flooring & underlay. It’s the sort of stuff you’d generally rather not put in your car without first putting down some decent covers and your natural inclination would be 'this probably needs a skip'.
Councils typically exclude Dirty Junk from limit their definition of bulky waste to “items you take with you when you move house” in the context of their bulky waste collection service for householders. In other words, they exclude Dirty Junk and also anything from a business premises. This is because councils have a statutory obligation to receive Clean Junk from householders at their civic amenity sites free of charge, but not to accept trde waste or waste from home improvement, construction or demolition work.
Whether bulky waste is domestic or commercial depends on the type of premises it’s being collected from (ie. business or home) and secondly who created it (ie. business, tradesperson or householder). Whether junk is domestic or commercial is relevant because it affects which options for collection are available and also how much you pay.
Note any waste that comes from a commercial activity is considered commercial waste, even if this activity is performed at a household. For instance, if you decide to change the bathroom unit yourself, the waste generated by this activity will typically be considered commercial waste by the local authority, and not household waste.
There are effectively 4 ways to carry out a bulky waste collection:
- Man & van – removal of loose waste by hand. The waste is picked up from wherever it is on the property by someone, carried to the vehicle and then loaded into it.
- Grabber lorry – removal of loose waste by machine. The waste is picked up and loaded onto a lorry by a mechanical arm. Suitable for large piles of waste that are accessible easily by a large lorry.
- Skip bag – a large builder style bag that the creator of the waste fills in advance of collection. The skip bag is then collected by the waste collection company – either using a mechanical hoist to lift the whole bag onto the lorry or alternatively the bag can be emptied manually and the waste handballed onto the vehicle
- Skip (or RoRo) – the skip (RoRo stands for roll-on roll-off container and is just a larger skip) is a metal container that is dropped off empty at the property, filled by the waste creator, then collected by the skip provider and emptied. Skips come in a variety of sizes and require a permit if you place them on a public highway.
a) Waste contractors
Specialist local, regional or even national licensed waste operators that offer one or more collection service (ie. man & van collection, skip hire, grabber lorries or skip bags). If you're willing to pay for disposal and need the waste removed quickly and responsibly, then these are your first choice.
b) Retailer take-back
To help solve their customers' pain point, some retailers offer a disposal solution for the old item being replaced. This service is often referred to as a ‘take-back service’. It is particularly popular with mattress, furniture and appliance retailers and also kitchen and bathroom companies. Large retailers of electrical appliances are legally obliged to offer an in-store waste electrical take back service and it looks like this concept of extended producer responsibility will in due course being extended to furniture retailers too.
Retailer take-back is normally reasonably well priced (retailers often subsidise the service to encourage you to buy the new item) and convenient because they organise for you at the same time as the delivery. Note however that it is only available to customers who are buying a replacement item - not the general public.
c) Council bulky item collection service for residents
Almost every council offers a low cost bulky item collection service to householders. Typically the service just covers Clean Junk. The speed, cost and ease of this service depends on your local authority. Councils each have their own set of permitted and prohibited items - for example, some won’t accept fridges or anything remotely DIY waste, whereas some actually allow you to dispose of an entire garden shed. Waiting times vary dramatically depending on how busy they are and how much capacity they have, although you should certainly expect to wait at least 1 week and in some instances up to 8 weeks! Most councils do not collect from within the property. Here is a nice guide on council bulky waste disposal for Londoners.
d) Remove it yourself
Everyone – householders and businesses - is allowed to transport their own waste to a disposal site (meaning the local tip or household waste recycling centre if you are a householder or a commercial disposal facility if you are a business) or to another property under your control. For householders, this option is particuularly appealing because HWRCs are mostly free to use. The downsides are the time it takes to do this (they get particuarly busy at peak times like Staurday and Sunday mornings) and the need for a vehicle to transport your junk. In practis, if you have the time and a car, it's perfect for smaller items that you can fit in your boot, but for larger furniture, more major DIY workm and bulky garden waste, another disposal option may be required.
Assuming your item is is good condition then this is obviously a great solution. Reusers comprise everyone from reuse charities, social enterprises, house clearance and office clearance businesses to individuals you want second hand items via platforms like Freecycle, Freegle, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree and NextDoor.
For more reuse ideas and information, take a look at this Ultimate Guide to Furniture Reuse blog.
The cost depends on the type of disposal. If you choose to remove the waste yourself by taking it to your local HWRC, disposal is free. The price of a council bulky waste collection is subsidised but rarely free (only 11 councils in England offer a free service). And hiring a private contractor is never free.
The cost of a bulky waste collection is driven by a whole range of factors, of which the main are:
- weight & waste type - regardless of whether you the customer are charged by weight or volume, behind the scenes waste collectors pay to dispose of their waste on the basis of waste type and weight. Light recyclables therefore cost less than heavy non-recyclables. By way of background, when a collector's waste vehicle enters a disposal facility, it is weighed on arrival and, having offloaded the waste, weighed on exit. It is then charged on the weight difference and the rate is based on the type of waste delivered. In most instances, the waste type is unsegregated mixed non-hazardous waste ('Mixed General Waste'). But where segregation occurs prior to disposal, the waste type can be one of many sub-sets (eg. light ferrous metal, inert, wood, cardboard, green waste). As a rule of thumb, mixed general waste is the most expensive to dispose of because it requires the disposal facility to do the most work. In other words, they have to segregate and sort it themselves in order to extract the recyclable materials.
- access/ ease of loading - with loose waste, ease of access and loading, means less man hours, which means less cost. On the other hand, difficult access, lots of time spent on site, means more labour and therefore higher prices. So if the waste can be placed neatly in a location that is easy to access, it will be better.
- container hire duration - if you require a container to store the waste prior to collection -the most common being a skip - then use of that container comes at a slight cost. Although for simplicity hire of the container is normally included in the price for the first 7 - 14 days because it is such an integral part of the skip business.
- geography - the cost of disposal varies quite a bit depending on where you are in the UK as a result of differing costs of labour, rent, proximity to waste to energy plants and landfill sites, and local government subsidy. Here is a guide covering and comparing the costs of council bulky waste disposal in England.
This is a blog in itself, but the most important bit from a customer perspective is that if you pay anyone to remove your waste, they MUST have a waste carriers license (which is issued by the Environment Agency or SEPA if you're based in Scotland) and ideally should provide you a waste transfer note documenting the collection.
Dumping waste on public or private land without consent is illegal and referred to as fly-tipping. If it is tipped on private land, it is the responsibility of the landowner to remove and dispose of it safely. If tipped on public land, it is the responsibility of the local council.
If a private waste contractor offers you a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. All waste collectors on the LoveJunk platform are licensed by the Environment Agency and provide disposal proof after each collection. That way you can always rest assured knowing your waste has been disposed of responsibly 🙂