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A number of councils collect household cardboard with green waste. These popular schemes have successfully diverted organic material from landfill and created compost or soil conditioner that is a valuable resource.

But composting cardboard also means thousands of tonnes of valuable fibre are being lost each year from the recycling chain. Diverting this cardboard from compost would help the UK’s recovered paper industry become more self-sufficient.

And in the winter months, when volumes of garden waste drop off, the relative proportion of cardboard in the green waste stream increases. This adversely affects the composting process, reducing quality and sometimes leading to rejection of material.

When cardboard levels are high, additional watering is required to optimise the composting process; this may take longer and cardboard may fail to break down, causing contamination.

The Organics Recycling Group (ORG) does not condone the inclusion of cardboard and paper within green waste collections.

Jeremy Jacobs, technical director, says: “There is an inevitable inclusion of non-compostable materials within this commingled feedstock, such as plastic, cellophane, staples and tape, to name a few. In addition, much of the cardboard will be laminated or coated, which reduces its ability to degrade within a typical 8-10 week aerobic composting process.

“The output from collections of commingled green waste and cardboard collections will also lead to lower quality compost which requires significant additional screening and wind sifting to remove contaminants.”

The PAS100 standard for composted materials was updated in 2011, when upper limits for certain contaminants were made more stringent. As a result of the revised Waste Framework Directive, councils will not be able to count waste materials sent to composting towards their recycling performances unless the resulting compost complies with the PAS100:2011 specification.

So the ORG recommends that, wherever possible, paper and cardboard waste are collected separately from green waste.

Defra has recently highlighted that recycling paper back into new paper products is the preferred option because it is the most environmentally sustainable. And as councils face ever-tightening budgets, separating this valuable resource from the green waste stream offers the potential to cut costs and increase income.

As an integrated company, which undertakes all parts of the recycling process from collection through to the manufacture of packaging, Smurfit Kappa is able to support long-term agreements that can insulate local authorities from the ups and downs of the markets to provide a consistent income stream.

Wherever possible, paper and cardboard waste should be collected separately from green waste. Diverting cardboard from green waste can make significant savings on gate fees and capture a valuable resource that offers additional income.

Ian Halson, business development manager for local authorities at Smurfit Kappa Recycling

Readers' comments (2)

  • good points well made, quality is important however realistically there is always going to be some mixing of materials for collection its the only way, i cannot see how people can have ten separate waste streams collected and kept separately unless you want to write a blank cheque

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  • its not true that councils cannot count compost towards there recycling rate in England, DEFRA has specifically said it is ok to include non-PAS100 compliant compost as "recycled", only Wales and Scotland are being so rigid. The author is trying to get more people to sign up to PAS100 because they are the technical body who sign off the standard, actually its OK to make non-PAS100 compost, it may not be good enough for B&Q but its perfectly fine to go on farm land and does not require a permit to spread it on the land in small amounts and its really good for the soil, and ultimately if it keeps cardboard out of landfill then thats got to be a good thing

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