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Commingled collections are not the answer

An industry commentator recently suggested that commingled collections could be used as a way to set right the industry’s poor glass recovery performance seen in the last quarter while elsewhere, businesses are arguing they would result in higher recycling rates. 

These are short term views and while commingled collections might help meet their respective aims, the key questions that would remain are, would all of the waste collected actually be reprocessed? And if so, to what standard of quality? Contaminated waste associated with commingled collections can greatly impact on the value of recyclates and can lead to recyclable material being disposed of at landfill or in energy from waste facilities due to poor suitability and quality – something which goes against the waste hierarchy.

In particular, using commingled collections as a way to drive targets for glass would cause a knock on effect and a shortfall of quality recyclate across other material streams, particularly paper which would easily become damaged and contaminated. Resource efficiency is not just about handling waste, there needs to be a focus on getting the best value from the resource waste offers and commingled collections are not the right solution to achieve this. There is a need here for industry to work together to develop and deliver the right, sustainable solutions so that together we can achieve a waste efficient economy.

The need to achieve quality material has become even more apparent since China clamped down on low quality imports and threatened to enforce regulations. Exporting recyclable material is also a waste of a resource that in many instances the UK could use if it was of high enough quality. Therefore, the waste industry needs to keep its end customer at the forefront of mind and focus more on quality. In doing so, it can generate the amounts of high quality recyclate needed for its own and global markets and secure a robust and commercially beneficial industry in the long term.

While to an extent there is still a place for commingled collections for more robust recyclates, where contamination and damage won’t impact its suitability for reprocessing, segregated collections will always be crucial to securing the type of feedstock we need to ensure we get the most value out of waste streams - economically and environmentally.

The focus for investment in the industry needs to be on innovation and we need to ensure it’s balanced across the sector and every waste stream so that we can match the growing portfolio of recycling processes with regular, segregated collections. Communicating the true value of clean waste streams as well as encouraging consumers and businesses alike to revaluate their waste management and look at how they can reduce waste in the first place, are also points we need to hone in on.

European Waste Reduction Week should provide industry with a platform to build on the best practice that exists, such as that from Zero Waste Scotland which focuses on waste prevention and promotes segregation through successful public engagement.

Looking ahead, service providers, local authorities, businesses and the public need to work together to shape a successful future for the industry. Key to reaching this is focusing on the waste hierarchy and ensuring quality is king.

Tim Price, DS Smith Recycling’s National Commercial Manager

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