Thinking of renting a skip? Here are a few ground rules that you should know about.

For large quantities of heavy domestic waste and builder's waste or rubble, skips provide a convenient and relatively low-cost solution. These are large open-top metal bins, rectangular with tapering sides, which are delivered to, and taken away from, the site by powerful trucks equipped with hydraulic hoists. Skip-hire companies take responsibility for disposing of the waste. There are many skip-hire companies, and many local authorities also provide skip-hire services: use the internet or the Yellow Pages to find the most competitive operator near you. Your skip-hire company should be able to ask you all the right questions, so as to provide you with the right size of skip, at the right time, at the right place. But here are a few matters to consider before you make that call.

What size?

The standard size is called a '8-yard' builder's skip - which is to say that it has a capacity of about eight cubic yards (6.1 cubic metres). Its measurements are approximately 13ft (4m) long, by 6ft (1.8m) wide, by 4ft (1.2m) high; put another way, a builder's skip will take about 65-85 filled black plastic bags. There are two smaller sizes, which are scaled-down versions of the builder's skip: the mini-skip ('2-yard': capacity for about 25-35 black bags), and the midi-skip ('4-yard': 35-45 black bags). These smaller sizes are useful if you really have relatively little to discard, but it is better of overestimate, and order a larger size than you need, than to underestimate and get one that is too small; smaller skips can also be the only solution if space or access is very restricted. There is also a bigger skip, the '12-yard', which is approximately the same size as the builder's skip, only deeper. Some of these skips have drop-down doors, to allow easy access, for example, for wheelbarrows of rubble. There are even bigger skips ('20-yard' and '40-yard') which are fully rectangular, and which are delivered and taken away on flat-bed lorries using a roll-on/roll-off technique.

Putting it on the public highway

You are free to put a skip on your own private land. But if you want it to be parked outside your house on the public highway, you will need permission from the local authority. The skip-hire company will get this permission, and pay the fee; the company will also take responsibility for ensuring that the skip is properly marked for visibility, with fluorescent red and white stripes, and, if necessary, with amber lights on the corners at night. Because of these responsibilities, skip-hire companies also have to put their name and contact details on their skips.

Access to the site

Skip lorries tend to weigh at least 7.5 tonnes, and are compact but bulky. Make sure that the lorry can get to the place where you want the skip. Note that when the full skip is taken away, the lorry will need the use of its stabilisers - metal legs which exert huge pressure on the ground, and could easily dent soft tarmac, or break paving stones.

How full?

To be legally transported when full, skips are supposed to be 'level-loaded' - in other words, filled only to the height of the sides.

What you can't put in

Skips are for general solid waste. Among the items that you cannot put in are: TVs and computer monitors, fridges and freezers, tyres, fluorescent tubes, or hazardous waste (including pots of paint or solvents). Asbestos needs a special closed skip; the skip-hire company will see that it is disposed of legally.

For how long?

Most hire companies will let you hire a skip for as long as you like. (The main cost to them is in delivering it and taking it away.) The best policy may be to ensure the skip is in place at the critical time when you can fill it up quickly, and then have it removed - otherwise it might attract other people's rubbish.

What other people might put in

Some people, if they see a skip, will take the opportunity to unload their rubbish in it too, and thereby avoid a trip to the civic amenity site. There is not much that you can do about this, particularly if the skip is parked on a public road - apart from mounting a 24-hour vigil. One solution is to cover the skip with a sheet or tarpaulin when not in use. However, most skip-hire companies do not supply sheets - because they get pinched.

What happens to the rubbish?

Most skip contents end up in landfills. But reputable skip-hire companies and local authorities take the rubbish to a depot or Materials Recycling Facility, where the contents are separated for recycling, if possible.

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