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The commingled versus source separated debate has been going on for a few years now and doesnt seem to have got anywhere. MRW wants to unite the industry with a compromise solution. Editor Paul Sanderson explains why MRW has taken this view


Paul Sanderson MRW editor 
Over the last few years, I have spoken to a number of readers about why I think it is important that MRW is a vehicle for the recycling and waste management industry to debate the vital and strategic issues affecting the way the UK deals with its waste and resources.

I believe it is important on the whole, for MRW to be balanced and neutral and allow people from both sides of an argument time and space in the magazine to put their point of view ideally backed up by strong evidence. And I want that to continue.

But on this occasion, I have decided to break with that rule and MRW is coming off the fence when it comes to the quality debate. To be honest, I feel that the debate between source separated advocates and those for commingled hasnt developed over the past two or three years and I think now is the time to try to unite the industry for all our benefit.

is not backing either side. We are not becoming a member of the Campaign for Real Recycling for example. Myself and the editorial team are not advocating source separated or commingled, but seeking a compromise solution because the evidence is increasingly suggesting that UK materials are not of sufficient quality either for UK reprocessors or for the export market. Im not against single stream commingled and MRFs per se, but there are too many cases where this collection method is not providing good enough quality material for UK reprocessors or those we export to. If that changes, then great, lets go for commingled.

So, in this issue we are launching the Recycling United Time for Quality campaign and we are seeking your support. This week and over the coming weeks, we will be giving you what we believe is the evidence behind this campaign.

Our message will still be the same this is what others in the recycling industry think about source separated, about dual stream and yes about commingled, but make up your own minds being aware of the MRW viewpoint. If you disagree with me, then email me at to tell me why. If you agree, and want to register support, then do so by clicking on the link at the top of this page.

Eventually, I would like to build a Courtauld Commitment-style agreement in which local authorities and stakeholder businesses commit to a united standpoint on quality with distinct aims.


This is what I suggest should form the basis of that commitment:


MRW is calling on all local authorities to have as a minimum a dual stream collection of dry recyclables by 2020. This would mean that paper and cardboard would be collected separately from other dry recyclables. Single stream commingled collections would only be used in extreme situations where no other collection method is possible and the authority should commit to a minimum overall dual stream. Ideally, local authorities will commit to source separated collection schemes, but it needs to be recognised that this system is not always practical.


Local authorities will also commit to, as a minimum, collecting the following dry materials to ensure a national standard collection system and to avoid local confusion:


  • Aluminium and steel cans
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Plastic bottles (both HDPE and PET)
  • Glass bottles and jars.


If prior to 2020, MRF technology is proven to provide equivalent quality to at least dual stream, then single stream commingled should be considered a viable and valid alternative.


This is the local authority bit above. But I dont want to only ask local authorities to commit. I would like waste management companies and materials recycling facility operators, and even plant and equipment manufacturers to sign up to the following:


MRW is calling on waste management companies and MRF operators to accept that the quality of UK recyclate needs to improve. We ask that they sign up to the following commitments:


·        The major waste management companies will as a matter of practice, advocate dual stream collections as a minimum service level when bidding for local authority (or commercial where appropriate) tenders unless they are 100% certain that the quality of material they produce from MRF technology is equivalent or better than dual stream.

·        Waste management companies and MRF operators, where single stream or dual stream sorting is required, will commit to not over-stocking conveyors at MRFs with more material than the sorting line can cope with to ensure the highest possible quality for this material.


What do you think? Do you agree with me and the MRW editorial team? If you think the above should be worded differently, email me with your suggestions or post them below.

Anyway, here are the reasons why MRW is launching this campaign and then you can decide yourself whether I am right or wrong in deciding on this standpoint.


  1. The MRW editorial team meets and talks to lots of people in the industry. Our anecdotal evidence is that those who advocate commingled are reducing in number because the evidence shows that quality of material is declining as volume of material collected increases.
  2. The majority of UK materials reprocessors are telling us that single stream commingled material leads to lower quality. They argue that they are buying the material and paying for contamination by weight they do not want. Some UK reprocessors like commingled, but recognise that there is a strong argument for keeping paper separate because it contaminates and gets contaminated by other materials. It is important to remember that the Environment Agency estimated in 2008 that the typical rejection rate at MRFs is 10.8%. This compares to less than 1% for kerbside sort schemes. Would you be upset if almost 11% of your weekly shop was contaminated with products you dont want and are paying for? This is how UK materials reprocessing businesses feel when they buy materials from MRFs.
  3. UK materials reprocessors are starting to import material from other countries because the quality is higher and their business need is for higher quality material. This is madness when there is a surplus of material in the UK.
  4. As you will see in a feature later in this magazine, we interviewed 150 Chinese companies on their views on the UK recycling market. It was clear that they feel that they get better quality material from Japan, Germany and the United States and that material from the UK is considered expensive. Do you honestly believe that the UKs biggest export market for recyclate will want to buy low quality and expensive material from us forever? This is a global commodities market and we need to provide material that people want to buy. Quality is key for our future competitiveness.
  5. It was controversial and interesting that WRAP has come down on one side of the argument, but the report Choosing the Right Recycling Collection System was a vital contribution to the debate. When WRAP modelled collection costs it found that source separated kerbside schemes had the lowest overall net cost, dual stream was next and single stream commingled overall was the most expensive. WRAP also found that it was the larger containers typically provided with commingled collections that leads to increased volumes of material collected and not the collection method itself. The lesson was to increase volume, increase the size of the container and this applies to both dual stream and source separated collections. If dual stream or source separated are overall cheaper and have increased container sizes, then everyone is a winner.


It is now time for the debate to move on. I dont want to see more commingled versus source separated debates and I hope youll agree. Lets see if we can unite the recycling and waste management industry, get a good debate going and hopefully compromise. We all have the same goals for recycling in this country. Weve made massive strides in improving our municipal recycling rates and everyone involved should feel very proud. But now its time for quality.


4/11/09: Abitibibowater, like many other reprocessors have long been an advocate of 'sustainable recycling will best be achieved through delivering quality materials to reproccesors'.
As such we fully support this campaign and are willing to embrace the compromise of the 'Dual Stream' collection methods and further if MRF material were to be equal in quality to that coming from Dual Stream collections then MRF material would be acceptable to Abitibibowater.
This compromise position does carry a condition, that all sides agree on a quality inspection method that is consistant at both dispatch from the collectors and MRF's premises and reception at the reproccessors factories.

Ron Humphreys, managing director, Abitibibowater Recycling Europe

4/11/09: J&B Recycling operate three facilities in the North East which handle 25,000 tonnes per annum of kerbside recyclables in co-mingled, dual stream, and single stream format from eight different Local Autorities.
Based on our experience we agree with the MRW that as minimum the authorities should commit to dual stream collection schemes, however we do not believe it should be paper that is the second stream as a minimum, it should be Glass.

We have processed co-mingled kerbside material, with glass as a separate stream, for a number of years and have had minimal contamination issues with the UK paper mills that we supply. Although we handle glass and or glass and cans mixed we always insist it is delivered separately from other grades so that we can process it in plant dedicated to glass.
As a result we have a high quality output of Cans, Paper, Cardboard, Plastic Bottles, Beverage Cartons, and Glass and have been able to develop long standing secure markets.

With the right facilities it is relatively straightforward to produce high quality outputs from co-mingled materials as long as the input does not include glass, In general we  have only run into problems with the paper when the input has inadvertently included glass as the UK paper mills have zero tolerance to glass contamination.
Also if co-mingled does include glass it puts extra strain, wear and tear etc on multipurpose equipment due to its abrasive qualities.

As a company we supply UK paper mills with paper collected as a single stream by some councils via transfer stations, and as comingled by others via our MRFs, and do not have issues re quality of material supplied to the mills via either method.
In conclusion we would support the MRW in its drive to ensure a national standard collection system however as a worst case be would rather see dual streams with glass as the second stream.
Mark Penny, Commercial Manager, J&B Recycling Ltd

4/11/09: I support the Campaign to improve the quality of waste material in the UK.
Jessica Baker, MD, Chase Plastics Ltd

9/11/09: Cullet quality is vital to the glass container industry, yet we are have experienced a consistent decline in the availability of good quality material in recent years. We are proud to support the work of the Campaign for Real Recycling in promoting the cause for more effective closed loop recycling systems and we thoroughly applaud MRW's campaign for a more collaborative approach to waste management that puts quality as the primary consideration.
Sharon Crayton, head of group marketing, Ardagh Glass

10/11/09: "Quality" recovered paper (RP) will always sell with strong global demand. Even at the end of 2008 "quality" RP continued to move. This is recognised in the WRAP report Choosing the Right Recycling Collection System.
"Quality" RP is used paper extracted from the waste stream with minimal exposure to contamination. Contamination is material that cannot be recycled in the papermaking process. Obvious examples are metal and plastic. These are rejected during the process but will need to be disposed of at a financial and environmental cost. Glass causes major issues as it breaks up into a fine dust. This is very abrasive and causes accelerated machinery wear. Less obvious examples of contamination are water, grease and fat. If RP is wet or exposed to food, fibres degrade and are less good for papermaking.
There is an environmental cost of shipping water around the recycling loop. Some used papers are NOT desirable for certain papermakers. Newsprint cannot be made from old cardboard as brown fibres are visible in newspapers. Similarly cardboard cannot be made from old newspapers alone as the fibres are too weak. This is why there are differences in LA collections.
"Quality" RP is the key raw material of the UK paper industry and will be the basis for future growth. CPI supports collection methods that brings "quality" RP to the market. Where high risks persist, such as co-mingled, they must be managed appropriately. PAS 105 is the UK RP quality standard and collection systems should aim to meet this on a consistent basis.
Peter Seggie, Recovered Paper Sector Manager, CPI

11/11/09: Berryman welcomes MRWs balanced approach to recyclates quality. For one of the industrys main sources of information as well as comment, Materials Recycling Week has a duty to promote good practice.
Rightly, its editorial staff believe that it cannot remain silent on what has become one of the main talking points over the past few years the decline in recyclate quality. We all have our views on this subject. They range from a denial that there is a problem to a belief that we have to return to basic hand collection and sort.
The solution, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. By calling on all channels of the waste management stream to come into one tent and find the best way of delivering quality they are providing a valuable service that we fully welcome. Quality should be a given. Whilst we can all have our views on how best to deliver it, agreeing on a basic model that is shown to work cost effectively to everyones benefit cannot be disputed.
Mick Keogh, General Manager, Berryman Glass

13/11/09: No question in my mind, dual stream collection of dry recyclables is the way forwards if we are to achieve quality to attract highest value for recyclates. Thats the only way we will reach a level of sustainability on a commercial basis to justify on-going collections of household kerbside waste long after WRAP subsidies have dried up.
Collection of clean recyclables can deliver real benefits to the environment, maximising non-renewable resources rather than using up resources to collect poor quality material which nobody wants (to pay top dollar for) and whose existence can only be justified to achieve landfill targets that is not sustainable commercially or environmentally.
I do subscribe to the idea that there will always be a fraction of the residual waste which cannot be economically recycled and to do so would cost more in resources than it would save. Ideally this element, being high in calorific value, would be diverted to EFW plants. Another answer dare I suggest is to bury it in landfill, not such a radical idea surely? I am talking here about the residual waste which cannot be recycled, or composted;- when those parts are removed we will be left with an insignificant amount of waste which will cause less harm to the environment in landfill than the damage done through attempting to recover a tiny amount of material that at best will be low grade and largely unwanted. The general public and the waste management  industry should not lose sight of the fact that landfill has a major part to play in the safe disposal of waste.
Thats my two-penneth-worth, for what its worth.
James Lee, Managing Director, Cromwell Polythene

It is clear to us that processors are not only focusing on the quality of materials collected but on the quality of output.  We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries about our air knives, glass cleaning and plastic granule cleaning systems, not just from new facilities, but increasingly from older, established facilities.  Our customers are clearly willing to invest to improve the quality of their output.

Dave Lansdell, Recycling Sales Manager, Impact Air Systems


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