UK’s Source-Separated Recyclate Contamination “Generally Low”

25-03-14(2)picZero Waste Scotland has published the findings of a study that looked at “typical contamination levels” in recycling that has been separated at the point of collection in the UK, finding there to be “generally low” levels of contamination.

To address the lack of robust data on the quality of source-separated dry recyclate, Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) was asked by the Scottish Government to manage a UK-wide compositional analysis programme focused on determining the typical quality of the five key source-separated recyclates.

The study examined contamination levels in five key recyclable materials – plastic, glass, metals, paper and card – when separated at the point of collection.

Ray Georgeson, Resource Association – “We welcome this report at the end of what has been a lengthy and complex project”

The aim of the project was to determine within “reasonable bounds of confidence” the typical levels of contamination in dry recyclate separately collected from households by local authorities and from the commercial and industrial sector by local authorities, reprocessors or third-party waste management companies.

Overall, 860 municipal recyclate samples were collected from 59 sites; the ten recyclate streams sampled were paper/card (paper; card; mixed paper & card), glass (clear; green; brown; mixed brown & green; mixed glass), metals and plastics.

In addition, 225 business recyclate samples were taken across 18 sites; the six recyclate streams sampled were paper/card (paper; card; mixed paper & card), mixed glass, metals and plastics.

Contamination

Contamination levels in source-separated municipal recyclate were found to be generally low. The metals recyclate stream was the most heavily contaminated, followed by card, plastics and brown glass.

Contamination levels in source-separated business recyclate were also found to be generally low, although the report states caution should be exercised in using these figures due to the low sample size obtained. As observed with municipal recyclate, the metals stream was the most heavily contaminated followed by the paper and plastics streams.

Recommendations

Although contamination was found to be “generally low” in source-separated recyclate streams, improvements can still be made, according to the ZWS study.

Metal streams were found to be the most the most heavily contaminated, so it recommends work could be done with crews to ensure contamination is removed more effectively.

Plastics appeared to be a significant contaminant in many recyclate streams, the study found. “People find it difficult to determine which plastics are recyclable due to the range of plastic polymers and differences between schemes,” the report states.

Project Steering Group member, Peter Seggie of Smurfit Kappa Recycling – “This chimes with the approach maintained by the Association that, even recognising that materials come from all kinds of collections, our members still generally prefer source-separated materials as they have tended to produce consistently better quality feedstock for UK reprocessors”

Further efforts should be made to educate waste producers – both householders and businesses – as to what is accepted in each stream, it recommends.

The Resource Association’s chief executive, Ray Georgeson, said of the study: “We welcome this report at the end of what has been a lengthy and complex project. The Association has been pleased to have been involved in the Steering Group for the project and has welcomed the inclusive approach that colleagues at ZWS and WRAP have taken to this important piece of work.

“We note that the project work on factors that influence contamination will be completed and reported at a later date. We look forward to further engagement on this critical element of the project, as better insight into the variables at play here – such as collection frequency, type of receptacles, socio-demographic and housing type and style and consistency of communication to households – could prove to be the most significant element of the project as they hold the key to so many of the issues of dysfunction in the recyclate supply chain that lead to lower and inconsistent quality and the problems this causes for UK reprocessors.

“As others draw their own conclusions from this project I hope that the gap between publication of this report and the subsequent work on factors influencing contamination is not too long. The continuing debate about quality, collection and sorting will benefit from this further insight.”

Project Steering Group member and Association member Peter Seggie of Smurfit Kappa Recycling said: “The report itself summarises: ‘contamination levels in source-separated municipal recyclate were generally low’. This chimes with the approach maintained by the Association that, even recognising that materials come from all kinds of collections, our members still generally prefer source-separated materials as they have tended to produce consistently better quality feedstock for UK reprocessors.

For the full study CLICK HERE

Send this to a friend