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Time for councils to get the most from waste collections

Nicola Peake

….on how to deliver more uncontaminated materials

MRW recently reported that Defra’s WasteDataFlow figures had revealed a 37% increase in the amount of recycled material sent to landfill during the past three years, also covering an issue in the Daily Telegraph that local authorities are “getting worse at making sure the recycling collected is properly processed”.

The figures show that the amount of recyclable waste rejected from MRFs and placed into landfill increased to 184,000 tonnes in 2009/10, from 157,000 tonnes in 2008/09. Given that local authorities face high landfill fines and taxes if they fail to capture and recycle waste, these figures are certainly of concern.

The Daily Telegraph reported that up to 10% of recyclable materials sent to landfill were dumped because they had been mixed with incompatible materials. But increasing amounts of rejects also reflects the fact that the amount of commingled collections being captured is increasing, which overall has to be a good thing.

It is true that rejects from MRFs can be around 10%, although some more modern plants can achieve better than this. But, fundamentally, their ability to separate materials depends on the presentation of the material. While commingled collections may be an easier concept to sell to residents, there is evidence to suggest that people take less care when putting all recyclables into one large bin.

More of the waste stream has to be sent for recycling, and as little as possible collected and rejected at a later stage. So we believe that, in a majority of cases, kerbside sort and collection of materials results in few rejects and better quality materials.

We believe that more than 70% of the waste stream can be captured - elsewhere in Europe, notably Norway and Germany, councils are successfully capturing 80%-plus of the waste stream as a norm.

“We believe that more than 70% of the waste stream can be captured”

Food waste collection should be a serious consideration for any council. It ensures food is kept separate from other materials, avoiding contamination. In May Gurney’s experience, when households are offered food waste recycling, the amount they throw away drops by 25% as they realise just how much they waste.

Many local authorities collect garden waste for composting, but doing this at home reduces the mileage the materials have to travel and, ultimately, saves councils money. It also allows more resources to be allocated to collecting and sorting other recyclables.

For a recycling service to deliver uncontaminated recyclable material, a kerbside sort collection for glass, paper, cardboard, plastics, food and Tetra Paks is needed. At a minimum, glass should be segregated from paper and cardboard. Sorting waste at the kerbside is cost-efficient and adds an extra layer of segregation to the recycling process.

And when the alternate week collection system is implemented with kerbside sort, a high volume of recyclable materials are collected, with contamination kept to a minimum. As local authorities face the reality of the end of landfill as a solution to handling domestic waste, finding new ways to cut contamination and ensure all recyclable materials are sent for reprocessing is increasingly pressing.

Nicola Peake is managing director of May Gurney

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