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Two streams good, more streams better

In case there was any doubt, the Campaign for Real Recycling (CRR) welcomes MRW’s Recycling United campaign. Both campaigns promote material quality and CRR agrees with most of the points made by Paul Sanderson in his October opening statement and those made by reprocessors since.

Two-stream collections are a substantial improvement on single-stream systems in terms of both quality and cost. The call for local authorities to adopt two-stream collections as a minimum in pursuit of quality is more than welcome. Two-stream should work well for most mainstream materials, depending on how the materials are split between the streams.

There appear to be a number of ways of approaching that question and probably as many possible solutions as there are materials. Whatever happens, more glass should find its way into remelt, and paper collected via two-stream should at least be glass, plastic and metal free, which though not ideal, would be an improvement on single-stream output.

Other material streams should see similar benefits. Even if these are no substitute for agreed standards, which continue to fall into the gap between what reprocessors need and what materials recycling facility (MRF) operators can offer, the improved quality is also likely to mean that more material is UK reprocessed.

In terms of cost, the end of single-stream systems, which involve inefficiencies of 10% of council tax revenues and still produce a poor product, must surely be welcomed by everyone except those with a vested interest in keeping them going. Two-stream collections would add a degree of versatility that improves recovery of basic materials. Where source separators might argue it falls short is in the wider range of materials that need to be added to reach higher diversion, starting with food. Some of the best collection regimes are now developing options for more fiddly materials, and all on the same vehicle. Can two-stream collections do that and at similar cost? This is what we need to discuss next.

CRR takes issue with the assertion that the materials quality/collection method debate “hasn’t developed over the past two or three years”. It has clearly developed considerably on the pro-quality side. CRR for one has moved the debate on, carefully assembling arguments which, informed by WRAP and other research, have exposed the poor value of single-stream systems and the benefits of preserving quality.

It also came as a surprise to CRR that “some UK reprocessors like commingled”. There are some which tolerate feedstock from single stream MRFs, mostly for reasons of feedstock scarcity, but certainly no CRR stakeholders would accept unsampled commingled material as readily as that separated at source. Several reprocessors that accept material from single-stream MRFs do so at a cost to themselves in plant stoppages, with extra wear caused by greater levels of contaminants.

More recently this additional expense has taken the form of new front-end equipment to clean up glass and paper. The pro-MRF lobby hails these installations as MRFs and therefore as a doublethink endorsement of their approach. Their logic is warped: front-end plants are necessary because the supplying MRFs are failing to deliver the quality required. Recycling is surely the poorer for this requirement, with domestic, public sector and commercial customers footing most of the bill.

The CRR congratulates MRW on taking a helpful position in this debate. The drive for quality is a one-way street but a broad one. There is room for more traffic as long as we’re all going in the same direction. 

Andy Moore is co-ordinator of the CRR

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