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The challenge of recyclate quality

It is important that reprocessors and local authorities work together to ensure they produce quality recyclates that the market wants to purchase. The focus remains on collection systems that best respond to local circum-stances, simplicity and providing the market with certainty.

But the current debate fails to look at other variables that affect quality. For those with an outsourced contract provider, I believe that councils should start at the procurement stage. 

Quality measures should be built into collection services to ensure useful intelligence data can be gathered during collections, such as an understanding the quantity of waste collected from specific wards or neighbourhoods. 

This includes information from waste audits. Detailed compositional analyses are essential sources to help inform the development of this service area. 

Remember to take into account contract flexibility in performance reviews. This flexibility allows councils to adapt their reporting requirements by focusing each year on the areas needed rather than set performance measures.

This allows investment to be directed into areas that are needed, rather than towards contractual obligations, including how money is spent on education.

Councils need to work harder still to help inform and educate residents about which materials can and cannot be recycled in order to reduce contamination at the kerbside.

Communication, both broad- brush and targeted, is vital to help improve recyclate quality. For example, intelligence and waste composition data can help target communications to areas that have problems with contamination. 

Door-stepping is a vital tool because it provides a face-to-face approach for gathering data about residents’ participation in the service, as well as ensuring that messages are being delivered. 

It is important to understand what material actually ends up in the recycling stream. In recent years, we have seen many changes in packaging, and these can cause confusion among residents as to what can be recycled - especially with composite materials. 

A lot of work has been carried out already on packaging. But we can do more, especially in terms of working with the retail sector to influence what packaging is used, as well as helping them reduce packaging requirements.

On the other side, it is important that reprocessors keep councils regularly updated on issues surrounding quality. Combining information gathered at the kerbside and the feedback from reprocessors, councils can provide targeted communications to help improve the quality of recyclate.

Of course, the long-awaited forthcoming MRF code of practice will be crucial to this, but there is much councils can do ahead of its publication.

Next week: Bernard Chase, purchasing director of Regain Polymers, on the hike in plastics packaging recycling targets

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