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"Simple truths and facts" supporting commingled published

“New facts” and “important impartial evidence” that will reignite the commingled vs kerbside sort debate have been unveiled by a new report on recycling collection systems.

‘Review of Kerbside Recycling Collection Schemes Operated by Local Authorities’, a four month study conducted by consultants WYG and commissioned by recycling firm Greenstar, concluded there is “no one size fits all” collection solution. But it showed clear evidence, using publicly available information, that the majority of top performing councils for dry recycling used commingled collections and that this collection system diverted on average 25% more material, after adjusting for rejects.

WYG waste expert and report co-author Len Attrill said the heavyweight support given to kerbside sort collections by government, industry and campaigning groups often included information that seemed contrary to the experiences of its council clients. “We did not aim to say that one system is necessarily better than any other; rather, we wanted to highlight successful kerbside recycling schemes, of any design, and to re-examine some of the arguments made by others regarding commingled collections,” he said.

Last summer the Waste & Resources Action Programme in its leaflet ‘Choosing the Right Recycling Collection System’ stated a preference for kerbside sort. It said these offer “reliable material quality and lower net costs for council taxpayers” as well as being “capable of capturing the same volume of material as commingled schemes”.

Greenstar chief executive Ian Wakelin said: “Frankly, I think the deck has been stacked against commingling. Now there is new, important and impartial evidence about commingling and other collection options. Given the great pressure we all face to cut waste and to recycle more, I would hope the relevant authorities will give this evidence equal emphasis when considering collection alternatives.”

He added that the study established “simple truths and facts that must be allowed to fairly inform and influence those who want to find out how to recycle more”.

The report said each type of collection system had merits and councils needed to choose systems to fit local circumstances. Attrill told MRW: “The answer is that councils need to look at this on a case-by-case basis, do some modelling, and not just look at the finances and capture rate but also consider their local priorities.”

On quality, Attrill said the WYG report found “UK reprocessors indicated that materials from MRFs [materials recycling facilities] are just as acceptable as kerbside sorted materials”. In addition, it found that costs for each type of collection system varied considerably depending on local factors.

“Our evidence is that single stream commingled collection schemes have been shown in some recent procurement exercises to be cheaper than kerbside sort systems, but sometimes the reverse is true. We are not asserting that we believe that one system is consistently cheaper than the other. Instead, we have clear evidence that any such generalised statement - in favour of one system or another - is untrue,” Attrill said.

Read more in MRW’s exclusive interviews with report co-author Len Attrill, Verdant managing director Roger Edwards, Verdant development director Pete Dickson and Greenstar recycling director Mick Davis


Key findings:

  • Most (26) of the top 30 English dry recycling local authorities use commingled collections;
  • WasteDataFlow information for 2008/09 showed local councils using commingled collection performed significantly better than those using kerbside-sort collections, diverting on average 25% more tonnage even after allowing for materials recycling facility (MRF) rejections;
  • Using alternate week collections of residual waste and commingled dry recyclables from wheeled bins, plus weekly food waste collections and chargeable garden waste collections, can produce recycling and composting rates of 70% - far higher than selected trials hailed by the Somerset Waste Partnership which uses kerbside-sort;
  • There is anecdotal evidence that commingling can improve operational health and safety, public ease of use, and street cleanliness.
  • MRFs produce recyclates from commingled collections that meet the specifications of reprocessors in the UK and abroad - which Greenstar UK believes is the only true and tangible test of recyclate quality.

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