Waste not want not: The recycling firm that can save companies money and help the environment

Getting a company’s recycling strategy right will save it time and money, and also help the environment, writes Sarah Devine

Climate change and the environment are increasingly on the agenda of businesses in Scotland and, indeed, across the world – and by implementing responsible business processes, a company can save thousands of pounds each year.

Many businesses squander valuable resources by using dry mixed recycling waste systems, where dry recyclables such as paper, cardboard, cans and plastics are placed into one container to be separated at a recycling plant.

However, if these items are stored separately prior to collection they are maintained as high-quality recyclables (HQR), enabling firms to capture their maximum environmental value and avoid the higher charges of disposing waste. In fact, the cost of business waste disposal accounts for an average of 3 per cent of a firm’s turnover, or £7,000, according to Resource Efficient Scotland.

One specialist company paving the way to a circular economy is Scotland’s leading waste management firm, Changeworks Recycling, which has headquarters in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

When the Scotch Malt Whisky Society recently turned to Changeworks Recycling to identify ways of optimising value from HQR, the Edinburgh-based society reduced its waste costs by 15 per cent, which equates to savings of £2,000 annually.

A dedicated client relationship manager carried out site visits and created a waste prevention and engagement plan before staff were given training, which resulted in a general waste reduction of around 30 per cent.

Likewise, Rab Ha’s pub in Glasgow’s Merchant City has substantially improved its recycling rate since joining up with Changeworks Recycling.

When the pub opened in 2017, it did not have a recycling system in place as owner Robert Mullen found that many recycling companies’ quotes and services were confusing. Now Rab Ha’s has a recycling rate of 92 per cent and has saved an estimated

8 tonnes of CO2.

“We are trying to redesign waste as a value both financially and environmentally,” says Ken McLean, pictured below, operations director of Changeworks Recycling, which also has a depot in Glasgow.

He explains: “Changeworks Recycling’s high-quality recycling system captures all of the recyclables from the waste stream. The recyclables have a value, and this income is used to offset the cost of the collection to the client. High-quality recycling is the most cost-effective and sustainable way for smart businesses to manage their waste.

“The more you recycle the more you save. It is that simple.”

McLean continues: “Some 80 per cent of businesses still throw out valuable recyclables as waste, but where we sit in terms of what we offer businesses is that we don’t ask clients to mix up recyclables, therefore we can capture the value of them.”

His organisation is leading the way for capturing the maximum value of HQR in Scotland and is helping companies across the Central Belt to set up strategies to implement plans that will, ultimately, save them time and money, while reducing their environmental impact.

Changeworks Recycling offers a tailored service that helps all types of forward-thinking businesses ensure they separate high-quality recycling at the user end, taking into account local and sectoral legislation around waste management.

However, McLean says that a key issue is a lack of understanding and awareness around what accounts for efficient recycling.

“Businesses think they are recycling but they are unaware that it’s likely being incinerated,” he explains. “Once mixed, the recyclables are contaminated and the materials are further degraded in transport and by handling.

McLean notes that only 19.8 million of the average 35.8 million plastic bottles produced in the UK per day are recycled. He also points to the waste produced by recyclable coffee cups, stating that while a reduction in single-use cups should certainly be commended, more needs to be done to tackle a ‘throwaway culture’, as the cups amount to just 4,000 tonnes of waste per year – small in comparison to the total 11.8 million tonnes of waste produced in Scotland annually.

In terms of Scotland’s carbon footprint, 74 per cent is generated through consumption of products and materials, according to Zero Waste Scotland. And there is a widespread desire to improve these figures as Scotland currently has the lowest recycling rate in the UK at just 43.5 per cent, according to figures from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

McLean does however maintain that attitudes to the throwaway culture in Scotland are undoubtedly changing.

The Scottish Government’s proposed Circular Economy Bill aims to drive progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2045, and Zero Waste Scotland estimates that a circular economy could save Scottish businesses £3 billion a year.

For businesses looking to improve their waste and be a part of the circular economy, it all begins with identifying efficient strategies to reduce waste.

Changeworks Recycling’s system stands out from traditional waste management companies by ensuring separated HQR are collected to be recycled here in the UK, which can dramatically reduce businesses’ overall carbon emissions.

It promotes the circular economy by viewing waste as a valuable resource in order to reduce the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources. In addition to cardboard, plastic, cans and paper, the firm can recycle electrical items, printers, furniture, food, wood, light bulbs and batteries, to ensure costs are cut wherever possible.

As a United Kingdom Security Shredding Association member, it also offers a secure shredding service which ensures documents are collected separately from recycling and ensures that the business, whether small, medium or a larger organisation, is compliant with data protection laws.

Changeworks Recycling runs workshops and staff training to obtain the highest value from HQR. McLean believes that there are many myths of recycling that have developed over the years, such as that all plastics are recyclable and everything that goes into the mixed recycling bin will be recycled.

There are more than 50 types of plastics used in single-use packaging, and products put into dry mixed recycling are likely to be damaged further down the processing line.

He adds: “The challenge for us is that businesses are sleep-walking into mixed recycling services, and they think that they are doing the right thing, but dry mixed recycling can be a waste of a business’s time as it is essentially just general waste.

“The benefits of HQR for any business are huge in terms of both the environment and financially.”

To find out more about how Changeworks Recycling can help a business reduce waste, carbon and costs, please visit

This article first appeared in the spring 2020 edition of The Scotsman’s Vision. A digital version can be found here.