How much do we really understand about the process of recycling? With attitudes ranging from the obsessive to the ambivalent when it comes to our waste products, it’s time to lift the lid on the cost of contamination.
How is recycling contaminated?
Even if you are passionate about recycling your waste, the alarming lack of transparency around recycling practices means that well-meaning households are inadvertently guilty of contamination. WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) report that in the last year, around 525,000 tonnes of recycling was rejected due to contamination.
Unfortunately, this is not limited to just an unwashed container. It’s true that food residue, grease, and water can render entire batches of cardboard, paper, plastic, and even glass unrecyclable. So where are we going wrong? Here are some of the main issues:
- Containment. Putting your recycling inside a plastic bag.
- Food waste. Grease on cardboard, unrinsed jars, residue in containers. Any recycling with food residue is likely to end up in landfill.
- The ‘wrong’ plastics. Unfortunately, many plastics still aren’t recyclable and including them in your household recycling can contaminate the process.
- Wrong materials. Putting glass in with plastic, or paper with glass, etc.
- Hazardous waste. This can be either non-biological, for example; paint, pesticides, oils, or biological, such as nappies, sanitary products, and syringes.
Impact of recycling contamination on the environment.
Currently, it is estimated that 525, 000 tonnes of recyclable materials are rejected due to contamination every year. This figure is just from household waste alone. That’s over half a million tonnes of recycling going to landfill or an incinerator. With the UK alone generating this much waste, it’s a bleak outlook when considering the whole of the developed world.
The cost of recycling contamination to the council
The LGA (Local Government Association) estimates that contaminated recycling costs councils around £93 per tonne (rates will vary between councils). Using this figure, it’s estimated that the additional cost of contamination is around £48 million per year.
Besides monetary cost, contaminated recycling can put employees at recycling centres at risk and can negate the efforts of other households who are being as diligent as possible about their waste disposal.
Step it up!
The good news is that you can make small yet meaningful changes to reduce the amount of recycling going to landfill. As well as making sure that your recycling is correctly sorted and washed, you can demand better from your local council.
Cuts to council budgets over the last decade seem to have had a profound effect on the process as a whole. Organisations such as the LGA, WRAP and SUEZ have all highlighted the need for clear communications around the quality of recycling. You can email your MP to highlight this issue or raise awareness in your community
It’s also worth noting that WRAP has stressed that ultimately, the biggest change must come from manufacturers themselves. Cllr David Renard, the Environment spokesperson for the LGA, said:
“At a time when councils are working towards achieving net zero, they are doing so with one hand tied behind their back courtesy of manufacturers who are littering our communities with plastic they know cannot be disposed of sustainably.”
It’s time that manufacturers take responsibility for their produce and this will happen by customers voting with their feet. With more and more eco swaps becoming available, larger-scale manufacturers will have to adapt and respond.
How to effectively recycle your Truthpaste Jar
Did you know that one of the worst culprits for contamination is toothpaste tubes? This was part of the inspiration behind us using our cute little jars. Not only are they easy to clean but glass is can be recycled infinitely. Find out more of the benefits of recycling glass.
Always make sure that your glass is cleaned thoroughly if you are putting it in with your glass recycling. The lids and labels can be left on jars when you recycle them, so it really couldn’t be easier to be greener.
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Gate fees report (2019/2020) Comparing the costs of alternative waste treatment options
WRAP [Accessed Sep 2021]
Robyn White (June 2021)https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/wrap-unveils-recycle-week-theme/ [Accessed September 2021]
Oliver Franklin-Wallis (Aug 2019) htps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/17/plastic-recycling-myth-what-really-happens-your-rubbish, Guardian Online [Accessed Aug 2020]
Laurie Clarke, (Aug 2019) https://www.wired.co.uk/article/recycling-myths-busted, Wired Online/Science, [Accessed September 2021]
WRAP, https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/5-top-tips-reduce-contamination, Recyclenow.com [Accessed September 2021]
WRAP, https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/plastic-tubes, recyclesnow.com [Accessed August 2021]
Dr Adam Read, external affairs director, SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK (2018), Quality and the need to manage contamination, letsrecycle.com, [Accessed September 21]