The increasing proportion of recyclables being rejected at sorting is partly due to MRF sampling, Biffa has said.
Defra’s latest recycling figures show an increase of a quarter in rejected household recyclable waste in England, with 417,000 tonnes (4.1%) turned away in 2015-16.
This has consistently increased since 2011-12, rising from 180,000 tonnes (1.8%) of recyclables in that year.
Since October 2014, operators of MRFs that process more than 1,000 tonnes of material a year have had to adhere to sampling regulations which Biffa says have contributed to this shift.
Biffa’s resource recovery and treatment director Dave Heaton told MRW that any increase in rejection of household dry recyclables on contamination grounds results from the drive to improve quality.
He said: “That puts MRFs in the front line of quality assurance. The MRF Code of Practice has helped to improve waste composition analysis and sampling of recyclables to spot contamination.”
Pete Dickson, commercial director of Biffa’s municipal division, said a lack of understanding from householders was to blame.
“By being more aware of how and why dry recyclables get contaminated, and what that means, householders can help ensure that dry recyclables put out for collection are as clean as possible,” he said. “It’s important to appreciate the consequences of contamination, such as recycling containers not being emptied.
“Our operational experience is that the vast majority of household recyclers do a good job – but the efforts of the diligent many can be undone by the actions of a minority who don’t or won’t recycle as they should.”
Mainstream media outlets including The Sun, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have regularly asserted that rejected loads and the recent decline in overall recycling are due to residents’ confusion.
However, this has been challenged by many in the industry, including consultancy Eunomia’s principal consultant Peter Jones, who has successfully complained about some of these articles.
He has pointed out that councils with supposedly more complicated kerbside sorting systems generally reported fewer rejected loads than those with commingled systems.
Explaining this trend to MRW, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chief executive Lee Marshall said this could be due to residents with commingled systems not getting the same level of direct feedback on their sorting.
“With the commingled systems, collectors aren’t doing that first sort. So all the rejects are happening at the MRF. What you’ll find with the kerbside sort is there is rejected material at the kerbside and that’s not measured as rejects.
“Over time, residents with sort systems would be better educated.”
He said stickers on uncollected bins explaining why a contaminated load had not been collected were likely to encourage residents to change their behaviour next time around.