Contamination levels in source-separated recyclate from households and businesses in the UK are generally low but more attention should be given to metals and different plastic polymers, according to a new study.
Zero Waste Scotland’s report ‘Contamination in source-separated municipal and business recyclate in the UK 2013’ found highest levels of contamination in metals for both sectors.
For municipal collections, the next highest levels of contamination were found in card, followed by plastics and brown glass (see table above).
For business collections, the next highest levels of contamination were found in paper followed by plastics.
However, the statistics for businesses were taken from a significantly smaller sample size.
The figures include contamination by similar physical materials in each material stream, for example paper in card collections, card in paper collections and glass of the wrong colour in glass collections.
The report made recommendations to tackle impurities:
- Crews working with metal streams should be assisted to ensure contamination is removed more effectively
- Both household and business waste producers need more education to help them determine which plastics are recyclable. This is due to the range of plastic polymers and differences between collection schemes.
Peter Seggie of Smurfit Kappa Recycling said: “This chimes with the approach maintained by the Resource Association (RA) that, even recognising that materials come from all kinds of collections, our members still generally prefer source-separated materials as they have tended to produce consistently better quality feedstock for UK reprocessors.
“The results show just how supportive separate collections are to the development of a truly circular economy.”
Zero Waste Scotland said high quality recyclate was more valuable and also improves market confidence and promotes investment in the expansion of the UK reprocessing sector.
The report comes on the wake of the Waste (Scotland) Regulations, which introduce a duty on Scottish businesses to separate five key recyclates (paper, card, glass, metals and plastics) for collection, unless it can be demonstrated that the amount of recyclate collected would not be significantly less, and the quality of the material not significantly lower, by collecting materials commingled.
A second report analysing the factors that influence contamination will be published separately by Zero Waste Scotland.
Ray Georgeson, RA chief executive, said: “Better insight into the variables at play here – such as collection frequency, type of receptacles, socio-demographic and housing type and style and consistency of communication to households – could prove to be the most significant element of the project as they hold the key to so many of the issues of dysfunction in the recyclate supply chain that lead to lower and inconsistent quality and the problems this causes for UK reprocessors.”
- Recent research by recyclers’ association Recoup suggested that around a third of consumers are confused over plastics recyling, and films and pots, tubs and trays in particular.
Iain Gulland, Director, Zero Waste Scotland:
“Poor quality of material has long been regarded as a key issue for the resource industry, with contamination playing a major part in this. To date we haven’t had any robust data on this, so it’s great to be able to address this gap.
“Harnessing the maximum value from materials we collect for recycling is vital to achieving our zero waste goals and in helping us to move towards realising the environmental and economic benefits of becoming a more circular economy.”
Gary Walker, Principal Policy Officer, SEPA:
“We welcome the results of this study into material quality in separate collection systems. Waste producers and waste service providers have a legal duty to ensure that the quality of material collected in commingled collection systems is not significantly less than that which can be achieved in separate collection systems.
“The study provides important evidence on contamination levels and we will be considering the report findings in order to target our activities and priorities on material quality and ensure that contamination issues are addressed under the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations.”
Site visits were carried out between July and November 2013.
There were 860 municipal recyclate samples collected from 59 sites.
In addition, 225 business recyclate samples were taken across 18 sites.