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More industry reaction to contamination coverage

Industry figures have continued to share their views on media coverage of contaminated recycling collections.

BBC Breakfast originally reported that “rejected” recyclable waste had risen by 84% in England since 2011, which has been followed by coverage across other media outlets including the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Times.

Now FCC Environment Group chief executive Paul Taylor has said the reports are “a testament to the fact that the industry is broken”.

He said ambitious recycling targets were unachievable and the Government needed to “look more strategically” at how energy-from-waste (EfW) could act as a complementary technology choice.

“What is needed is a sustainable waste strategy that balances and aligns environmental imperatives with hard, economic realities.

“The very nature of conversation around recycling during the past 20 years has disassociated waste from the argument. Even the use of the term continues to further negative connotations about the things we perceive to have no longer use of.

“But it’s time to change this, and begin talking and acting in ways that value waste as essential component of the UK economy – particularly in light of the unknown future of Government attention and support after the result of the referendum.”

Viridor director of external affairs Dan Cooke said the most contamination from residents was found around plastics and containers, and the company often found food waste, nappies and sanitary products in recycling collections.

“Only around 3% is rejected due to contamination and, of that, much will still be used to generate energy.

“The public instinctively want to recycle and do the right thing, and 8 in 10 people see ‘waste’ as a valuable resource.

“But we all lead busy lives – getting the kids ready, taking them to school, getting to work – and taking out the trash isn’t the top priority. We need to make recycling simple, and remind people why right stuff, right bin matters.”

2000 simon weston

2000 simon weston

The Confederation of Paper Industries’ director of raw materials Simon Weston, pictured, said higher reject rates partially reflect a growing impatience amongst paper mills that cannot afford to pick up the cost of contamination.

”Increasing energy, water, sorting and waste disposal costs have focused reprocessors on the impact of poor quality, which can increase the cost of raw material by up to three times by the time it has been processed.

”The paper industry favours a clear and consistent approach to collection, such as that being advocated by WRAP, which would provide clarity and simplicity for councils and the public.

”It also believes that the increasing use of commingled collection has contributed to confusion because it encourages the idea that ’anything goes’ in the recycling bin, rather than forcing the public to focus on the specifics of what they are doing.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Energy & Environment offered its top five tips for councils struggling with contamination:

  • align council policies, waste/recycling services and communications
  • make contaminating bins more inconvenient than getting it right – do not collect contaminated bins
  • communications at the ‘point of action’ to positively influence households – stickers on bins and information tags for contaminated bins
  • work with crews to deal with contaminated bins properly
  • follow up all contaminated bins with visits to household to explain why the bin was not collected and how to get it right next time

Environment Services Association head of regulation Sam Corp said after the BBC’s initial coverage: ”This increase in contamination does still highlight the need for a long-term framework from the Government to help drive recycling and reuse, and reduce the levels of contamination that have been shown in these figures.”

The newly reported figures appear identical to those used in a criticised Mail article in January, which was picked up by the Telegraph and Daily Express via Associated Press.

At the time, Eunomia consultant Peter Jones 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.

2000 mandy kelly ace cartons

2000 mandy kelly ace cartons

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK said there was a clear link between information, public engagement in recycling and the quality of recyclable material being collected.

Mandy Kelly, ACE UK senior recycling manager, pictured, said: “The priority for councils has of course been to maintain front line services and communications budgets have often been a casualty when making savings. Unfortunately this is now translating into rising quality issues and flatlining recycling rates.

“This is an area where the industry can provide valuable support to our colleagues in the public sector. ACE UK supplies free communications materials to help councils engage residents in recycling programmes. However there is still a big opportunity for the industry to do more to help.”


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