9 June 2009

Commingled has “cost and quality disadvantages” claims WRAP

Sorting household recycling at the kerbside is the “best and cheapest option in most cases”, the Waste & Resources Action Programme said today (June 9).

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) made the claims in a publication looking at the various ways of collecting household recycling drawing on its latest research.

Our evidence shows that in the vast majority of cases, sorting materials for recycling at the kerbside is the best option

Liz Goodwin, WRAP

The publication claims that local authorities are “best placed” to determine which collection method is most suitable, and WRAP said that it recognised that physical conditions like high rise housing or highly congested roads may prevent sorting at kerbside being the best choice in some circumstances.

However, where local authorities have the choice, and kerbside collections are not an option, the organisation said that two stream collections – which keep paper and card separate from other materials, especially glass – are preferable. WRAP claimed that they produced “the best material” for recycling by keeping contamination levels down.

Looking at all collection methods, the report also claims that fully commingled collections for recyclables have “cost and quality disadvantages” which should “limit their use except where other options are not suitable”.

The government-funded research body is presenting its views drawing on work it has done over the last three years and the latest research in a leaflet ‘Choosing the Right Recycling Collection System' at the Futuresource conference at the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands today.

Publication of the leaflet comes in light of the growing debate on the merits of various collection systems. The organisation said that it recognises local authorities are best placed to judge the circumstances in their areas and make the choice of collection system, and that WRAP's views are intended to help them in considering options

Among the conclusions is that sorting recycling at the kerbside provides the “best quality material” and, when total costs are taken into account, is cheaper for council tax payers. WRAP claimed that this “flies in the face of the popular belief that commingled recycling collections are cheaper”.


Drawing on its research, WRAP argues the evidence is clear that the quality of the materials recovered for recycling is affected by the way they are collected.

It states: “Quality is important because it affects the uses the material can be put to. Quality materials can be easily reused in ways which give the most benefit to the environment.”

“Kerbside sorted materials are consistently good quality with less than 1% being rejected,” it continues. “Commingled collections are subject to higher contamination rates and have higher levels of rejection.”

And, WRAP also claims that reprocessors of recycled materials in the UK are “currently struggling to find enough good quality material for their needs from UK sources” and said that this was “despite the volumes being exported”, which has led to reprocessors importing some material.

Despite its perceived cost and quality disadvantages, WRAP said that consumers can still be confident that the “great majority” of commingled materials are recycled in some form and are not sent to landfill.

The leaflet claims that the claim that commingled collections help boost recycling rates “does not tell the whole story”, and that the size of the containers householders are given for their recycling and how often they are collected is a more important issue than the collection method.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive of WRAP, said: “Our evidence shows that in the vast majority of cases, sorting materials for recycling at the kerbside is the best option. It provides the highest quality and means materials can be used in the best end uses from an environmental and economic perspective. We do not believe that householders will object to sorting recycling into different containers.

“Our research indicates that 87% who have to separate recyclables into different containers say they do not mind doing this. Commingled collections should only be used where no other system would work.

“It cannot be right that we cannot provide enough recycled materials of the right quality in the UK and that we are looking to other countries to supply them instead,” she added.

WRAP is advising local authorities who are reviewing their arrangements to base their choices on four considerations:

• Quality of materials
• Cost Efficiency
• Cost Effectiveness
• Public acceptability

In its leaflet, WRAP said that it believes that this latest information will help local authorities make informed decisions about the type of collection service they choose.


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