Eunomia’s senior consultant Peter Jones has made fresh complaints over the Daily Mail and Daily Express’s reporting of contamination in local authority collections.
BBC Breakfast reported on 23 August that “rejected” recyclable waste had risen by 84% in England since 2011-12 to 338,000 tonnes in 2014-15 using data it had received from Defra in response to a Freedom of Information request.
The newly reported figures appear identical to those used in a criticised Mail article in January, which was picked up by the Telegraph and Express via Associated Press, and have been publicly available since December 2015.
At the time, Jones (above) contacted the papers to say the 338,000 tonnes “reject” figure represented only 3% of the 11 million tonnes of recycling collected by councils, with most of the rejects being the product of the MRF sorting process rather than households.
As a result, he said, the Telegraph removed the piece while the Express and the Mail “argued the toss at some length” before retracting their stories and issuing corrections.
Despite this, the Mail, Express, and Telegraph have all repeated the ‘new’ figures reported by the BBC, and published think pieces such as ‘Why should we spend hours sorting our rubbish if councils just dump it in landfill?’ by Mail columnist Stephen Glover.
Jones told MRW it was strange that Defra had complied with the BBC’s request because the data was already publicly available. He suggested there might have been some new details released by the department.
“The figures now are exactly the same figures as in January. The theme of the story was the same as the Express ran in 2015. I wrote letters to the Independent Press Standards Organisation regarding the Mail and the Express stories.”
Jones disputes the angle being pushed by most national media that contamination had risen due to residents’ confusion over what can be recycled.
Greenwich in south-east London and Kirklees in West Yorkshire were among the councils with the highest rejection rates, with nearly 15% of their recyclables collections rejected, while Newcastle-under-Lyme has been praised for 0% contamination.
But Newcastle-under-Lyme has a multi-stream collection system, which could be considered more ’confusing’ than the commingled schemes of Greenwich and Kirklees.
“The angle being pushed that it is all down to confusion is untenable,” said Jones.
The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac) also disputed the idea that confusion was the reason for the figures.
andrew bird larac
Chair Andrew Bird said: “It is disappointing that as an industry we talk about confusion when it comes to recycling and help to perpetuate the myth. Councils work hard to promote their services and give residents clear guidelines about what can be accepted.
“Calls for standard systems are not the answer as the collections systems are purely a function of the materials on the market and the economic reprocessing facilities available.”
All the figures quoted by the BBC refer to all local authority-collected waste, which means it includes businesses as well as households.
Using only household waste data, recyclables collected by local authorities in 2014-15 totalled 10.1 million tonnes, with just under 330,000 tonnes rejected. This works out at the slightly higher rejected proportion of 3.3%.
The comparative figures for 2011-12 using just household data are: 9.8 million tonnes collected, with 180,000 tonnes (1.8%) rejected.
These figures give a 149,720 tonne rise in rejected household waste in the three-year period, which works out as an 83% rise.