Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Plastic Recycling

Plastic recyclingPlastic Recycling

What you must do

Authorisation to operate

Some plastic recycling sites may require a pollution prevention and control permit for example if you use certain colourants, stabilisers or flame retardants in your compounding processes.

Does your recycling and reprocessing business need a permit, licence or exemption?

Ensure that you do not make any discharge to public sewers, surface waters or groundwater without consulting the appropriate regulator. To make a discharge without a consent or appropriate authorisation may be an offence and could lead to enforcement action.

Trade effluent - managing liquid wastes

Preventing water pollution

If you store, handle, transport, treat, recover, reuse or recycle waste plastics, you must hold a waste management licence or exemption.

You must meet your requirements under the duty of care.

Duty of Care: Your waste responsibilities

Your business may need to comply with packaging regulations.


You may need to treat some plastics as hazardous/special waste, for example plastic containers or drums which held oils or creosote, and agricultural plastics such as silage films.

Hazardous / special waste

You must treat hazardous/special waste plastics in designated, signed, bunded treatment areas. You must keep hazardous/special waste separately from all other materials. You should clean plastics to remove hazardous substances such as engine oil or antifreeze before storage and processing. This reduces cross contamination and pollution, and increases the financial value of your plastics. Use secondary containment systems or bunds to contain any spills or contaminated run-off from plastics.

Pollution Prevention Guideline (PPG) 2 contains guidance on bunding and storage.

PPG 2 Above ground oil storage tanks (Adobe PDF - 276KB)


In Northern Ireland you must have a discharge consent, groundwater authorisation or a pollution prevention and control (PPC) permit before you discharge anything other than clean uncontaminated water to the environment. This includes sewage, trade effluent or contaminated surface run-off.

NIEA: Regulation of water discharges

In Scotland, if you discharge anything to the water environment you may require an authorisation from SEPA - See SEPA: Water - Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR). You must comply with the conditions of your authorisation.

SEPA: CAR – A practical guide (Adobe PDF - 562KB)

You must comply with all the conditions of your authorisation, permit or consent.

Storage and handling

Store plastics for recycling on hard, waterproof surfaces, under cover and as far away as possible from watercourses. Do not store plastics on bare earth. This could allow contaminants such as dirt or grease to pollute land and watercourses, for example if grease from plastics was washed into a stream.

Separate plastics to avoid contamination, for example store oily industrial drums away from clean food packaging.

Waste storage and transport

Equipment and processing

You must ensure that your recycling equipment does not cause pollution or a nuisance.

Compounding, extrusion and pelletising

You must store and handle chemical additives such as impact modifiers or plasticisers safely and legally to avoid land, air or water pollution. Read and follow the Safety Data Sheets for all chemicals you use.

Oil storage

Chemical storage

Ensure you use secure, heatproof recycling or disposal drums for contaminants filtered off during extrusion. Investigate whether you can recycle the filters at the end of their life. You may need to treat them as hazardous/special waste.

Ensure your recirculating water systems for cooling plastics after extrusion use sealed water treatment plants.

You must not make any discharge to surface water or groundwater without consulting your environmental regulator. If you discharge without an authorisation, permit or consent from your environmental regulator you could be prosecuted and fined or imprisoned.

Preventing water pollution

You must not discharge trade effluent to a public sewer without trade effluent consent or a trade effluent agreement with your water and sewerage company or authority. If you discharge without a consent or agreement you could be prosecuted and fined or imprisoned.

Trade effluent - managing liquid wastes

If you use cooling towers or evaporative condensers, you must register with your local council.

Cooling towers

Extruders can produce hazardous fumes if the materials inside become overheated. Ensure operating temperatures are well controlled, heat gauges are regularly maintained, die plates are clean and processing areas are well ventilated. You may require exhaust ventilation systems.

Certain plastics such as PVC are very temperature sensitive. Check that PVC batches are correctly mixed with additives or other plastics during blending and extrusion to avoid fumes and potential fires.

Good practice

Separate plastics by grade. This makes them easier to reprocess and more financially valuable. For example, separate the following grades:

  • (1) PET Polyethylene Terephthalate, eg plastic drinks bottles or salad trays
  • (2) HDPE High Density Polyethylene, eg milk, ,bleach, cleaner or shampoo bottles
  • (3) PVC Polyvinyl Chloride, eg pipes, fittings, door frames, motor parts
  • (4) LDPE Low Density Polyethylene, eg carrier bags, bin liners, packaging film
  • (5) PP Polypropylene, eg margarine tubs, vehicle upholstery, carpet fibre
  • (6) PS Polystyrene, eg egg cartons, protective packaging for electrical goods, insulation materials in construction.

Further information

NetRegs: Rubber and plastic products business sector

British Plastics Federation: Recycling of plastics

Zero Waste Scotland: Business reuse and recycling directory

Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association

Read about More waste treatment processes on NetRegs

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms