Quality inputs to any recycling process not only save reprocessing costs but also lead to a higher quality recyclate. This adage applies in particular to the world of organics recycling, where feedstock contamination is a significant issue particularly in kerbside-collected green waste.
The question is, who is responsible for such material meeting the acceptable quality input specification as agreed between the local authority and the reprocessor?
You may think that the householder is the principal actor in ensuring that quality constraints are adhered to. They do have the opportunity to make the difference between poor- and high-quality recycling. But getting the message to so many individuals, covering a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, is clearly challenging.
Perhaps then the responsibility should rest with the authority that collects the material and has the power to reject it at the kerbside if it fails to meet agreed quality criteria. A number of councils operate a ‘three strikes and you are out’ policy to ensure that residents collect only target material.
This seems to work well, but there is a cost implication of adopting such a scheme because every lid on every bin has to be lifted in order to inspect the contents to check for contamination – and, as we all know, there is a paucity of resources, so where next?
The last link in the chain is that of the reprocessor, be it the composter or anaerobic digestion (AD) operator who is paid to convert this feedstock into a valuable fertiliser replacement. The gate fees for this material have fallen dramatically in recent years, as has the margin.
Regardless of this, operators have the unenviable task of getting the most out of the material and making it ‘fit-for-purpose’ for the designated end market. This market is predominantly agriculture, and farmers are discerning in their quest for quality product, so the onus rests firmly in the hands of the processor to clean up the mess of others!
Perhaps the ultimate responsibility for this conundrum lays with the Environment Agency because it has a responsibility to ensure that local authorities are meeting their duty of care in collecting the correct material in the designated bin. If not them, then who?
Jeremy Jacobs is technical director at Organics Recycling Group, Renewable Energy Association