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Defra defends increase in recycling rejection levels

Defra has defended England’s household waste recycling system following data which showed that the amount of household recyclables collected but not recycled has increased by 37% over the past three years.

An article in The Telegraph brought to light figures from the WasteDataFlow website, which collects and compiles waste data from local authorities across England, showing that for 2007/08 local authorities rejected 134, 441 tonnes of recycling out of 8,840,960 tonnes collected from households – a rate of 1.52%.

In 2009/10, local authorities collected 9,474,646 tonnes of material for recycling but 183,913 tonnes were rejected. This resulted in a rejection rate of 1.94% for that year and a 37% rise over the past three years, not a 40% increase as reported in The Telegraph.

According to industry, the rejection rates for recyclables are a result of contamination, which means the material cannot be recycled. Rejected materials are therefore sent to landfill or a separate waste management treatment other than recycling.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Households are recycling more than ever, with over 40 per cent of household waste now sent for recycling. At the moment, some waste sent for recycling is rejected, but this is a very small proportion.

“People want to do the right thing, and the Waste Review we published recently shows how we can help them - setting out how we can cut waste, increase recycling rates, and improve the quality of recyclable material.”

The Local Government Association said the increase in contamination rates shows councils need to help residents to recycle properly. Environment board chairman, Cllr Gary Porter, commented: “Household recycling is a real success story. In the past decade councils and their residents have increased the recycling rate from 12 to 39 per cent, diverting millions of tonnes of waste from landfill. The job isn’t done yet by a long chalk.

“We do need to keep improving if we’re to minimise environmental harm and avoid possible EU fines for not hitting landfill reduction targets. The vast majority of people do the right thing, which is great. But the slight increase in contamination rates demonstrates why it is important for councils to be able to identify and work with people who misunderstand or make mistakes when sorting their rubbish.”

But DS Smith Recycling national commercial manager Tim Price said the rejection rate is also a result of industry demanding a higher quality of materials than ever before: “Today’s report shows the impact comingling has on recyclable material and how quality demands are much higher than they were 3-5 years ago. It is this combination that is causing greater levels of recycling to end up in landfill. To reverse this trend, we need to balance participation rates with material quality and remember that commingling is not suitable for all materials.”

Data showing rejection rates of household waste recycling collections

YearTonnage of household recycling rejected in England by local authoritiesTonnage of household recycling collected in England by local authorities% of collected household recycling rejected    
2007/08134,4418,840,960      1.52%  
2008/09156,8399,257,576      1.69%  
2009/10183,9139,474,646      1.94%  

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