Contaminated recycling ends up in landfill

July 19, 2007 at 10:14 am

Pressure from the government to increase the country’s recycling rate from 27% to 50% seems to be having a negative effect on councils. We as householders may feel that we are doing our bit for the recycling schemes but it is what happens after the material leaves our homes that counts.

Many councils’ schemes are seriously flawed and an alarming number are unable to say where or how the materials are recycled. In some cases their sole concern appears to be getting rid of the stuff. A large part of the problem would seem to be “co-mingled” collections where householders put paper, glass, plastic and cans into the same bag or bin and then councils send it all to be sorted at material recycling facilities. Unfortunately because of a lack of long-term investment, these depots are often under-staffed and overworked leading to cross-contamination of materials.

Although co-mingled collections are a practical solution for some areas, there is obviously a case for separately sorted collections where household space is not an issue. Householders also need to take responsibility for what ends up in their recycling bags or bins. Food waste and soiled nappies are amongst the less desirable items which have found their way into containers of supposedly recyclable material.

People in the industry are reluctant to speak out in case the public lose all confidence in recycling schemes but the situation has become so serious, that they are campaigning for councils to sort the material at the time of collection or to get householders to sort it themselves.

Aylesford Newsprint is a company which recycles paper but according to a report in a recent newspaper they have to send 9000 tons of plastic, glass and metal to landfill sites each year.

Glass manufacturers are also badly hit by contamination of material. Once clear glass has been smashed and mixed with coloured glass it can no longer be used and is either sent to landfill sites or used as road aggregate. If in doubt use the local bottle bank where separate containers are available for differently coloured glass.

Mixed plastics are another problem area. Bottles are fine but some councils are under the misapprehension that items such as margarine tubs and yoghurt pots can also be recycled. This unfortunately is only very rarely the case in the UK and they end up being transported to countries such as India, China and Indonesia which together receive about 10,000,000 tons of our rubbish per year.

This may all make rather depressing reading but it is by no means a reason to give up recycling. Instead, if you are concerned about your council’s recycling scheme you should contact the Recycling Team at your local council and ask some important questions. If you are still not satisfied that all is well, consider lobbying your local councillor to ensure that the system is running properly. Apart from the environmental issues, they are missing out on an excellent commercial opportunity to sell material to companies that are prepared to spend millions a year on properly sorted items.

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