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One-sixth of Scottish MRF input contaminated

Contamination of waste being sent to Scotland’s MRFs is at an average of 17%, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

Sepa said the contamination rate sent to individual MRFs ranged from 0.91% to 43.04%. It added that the dataset was relatively small and is sensitive to fluctuations by individual operators.

Individual MRF operators have previously spoken of contamination rates for input materials of 15-20%.

The data is from Sepa’s first report on MRF quality, and covers data from 13 MRFs between October 2015 and May 2017.

The agency says the data has highlighted areas that need to be tackled, including reducing contamination, managing downstream outcomes more effectively, building confidence in what is happening to materials after they leave MRFs and ensuring appropriate treatment is taking place.

Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn said: “We need some big changes – and the responsibility for these changes doesn’t just lie with the waste industry.

“We know that those sites that have good communication with their customers are able to ensure a lower contamination rate, so it shows that supplier engagement really does make a difference.

“Success needs changes at every step of the journey. That means thinking about improvements at each stage in the process, starting at the point of production, and finishing not when an item is discarded and becomes a potential resource, but to the very end of its journey.”

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said progress was being made.

“The Household Recycling Charter … will make it clearer for residents what can and cannot be recycled and improve the consistency of recycling services across Scotland.

“With 25 councils already signed up to the charter, it is great to see partners committed to maximising high-quality recycling. This report highlights the next steps for Scotland to get the most out of our materials and help us to achieve our circular economy ambitions.”

Stephen Freeland, policy executive of the Scottish ESA, said: ”MRF operators have been frustrated by a general decline in the quality of incoming recyclable material for quite some time and with reported levels of contamination consistent with Sepa’s published data. More effort and resources are therefore required to be expended within MRFs to ensure outputs continue to meet market specifications.

”We therefore welcome Sepa’s efforts to improve transparency around the reporting of MRF inputs and outputs, and hope that this first report puts material quality in the spotlight and helps to drive necessary improvements in front-end collection systems.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • In London and the SE we collect both commingled recyclables AND single stream. They ALL have contamination and must be cleaned up before a product is acceptable to a user of the material. As residual bins have got smaller the problem has got worse. This has been going on for more than five years and has frequently been covered up, but SEPA is independent of English influence and says it how it is.

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