Axion Consulting has claimed that collecting recycling via a ‘commingling’ system is “the way forward” for councils looking to reduce costs and increase capture of material.
But commingled collections only work effectively if local authorities take “full responsibility” for ensuring the materials are directed to high quality materials recycling facilities (MRFs), Axion’s director, Keith Freegard, has told letsrecycle.com.
The chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) has countered the statement, arguing that the Environment Agency also needs to offer help to council in ensuring that MRF operators are accurately reporting output rates.
“I think the route to higher levels of capture is that you have to make it really simple,” Mr Freegard said, suggesting separate collections of recyclable materials in multiple containers is “unrealistic” as they are “too complicated” for householders to do.
If councils are able to collect a higher volume of dry recycling and save money with a lower cost, two-bin collection system, they have a responsibility to make sure that hard work doesn’t go to waste at the processing stage, Mr Freegard argued.
Councils must also make sure that MRF operators are achieving a high yield of recyclable materials collected from householders, he claimed.
“The handover of that big volume of valuable materials for me carries with it a duty of care to make sure that all the hard work done by the householders, councils and collectors does actually generate high quality material,” he said.
Mr Freegard continued: “If a council hasn’t got in place a regular meeting [with the processor], and monitors and reviews the output […] If they’re not managing and understanding the quality of the output, I don’t think they’re really carrying out their duty of care.
“One of my concerns is that maybe the idea of some of the councils is to go to the cheapest bidder. When that happens, you really need to be asking yourself why they’re a low cost bidder,” Mr Freegard warned.
Code of Practice
Commenting on the MRF Code of Practice – which requires operators of sorting facilities to report the contamination levels of material received and sorted at MRFs – Mr Freegard said councils ultimately still have the responsibility to be aware of the quality of output materials.
“How many councils are regularly referring to the MRF code of practice and seeing where there output material is?” he asked.
As for claims by some processors that separate collection yields higher quality material, Mr Freegard agreed it has the potential to deliver better quality material, but argued that it is “always going to be limited to a lower capture rate” than commingling, which requires less effort from households.
As such, councils’ biggest difficulty, Mr Freegard anticipated, will be to enter into a “working relationship with the company that does the collection and the primary sorting at the MRF in a way that is quite open book.
“I think councils might find it hard to enter those relationships with the collector because there might be a tendency to not follow up.”
However, responding to the comments, Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC said: “There was no evidence to suggest comingled collections are the only viable solution and the way forward. Many authorities operate source separated systems very successfully, and in the current climate for marketing materials, they tend to command a higher value than MRF separated materials, which can then offset the additional collection costs. This will be confirmed when the work on recycling consistency is published.
“Our policy position is simple, that it is for local authority’s to determine which type of recycling collection service they wish to employ based on local circumstances, and each of the three main systems has its merits. What we have been saying is that there should be a standard (consistent) set of materials collected by local authorities, especially plastics, rather than how materials are collected.”
Duty of care
Agreeing that local authorities have a duty of care in checking the quality of output materials, Mr Bird said “the key is communication.”
The regulator needs to be open and honest about the MRFs that aren’t necessarily performing properlyAndrew Bird
“Local authorities have that responsibility of care but they also need to work with the regulators and the regulator needs to be open and honest about the MRFs that aren’t necessarily performing properly,” he said.
If certain processors aren’t adhering to the Code of Practice then it is the regulator’s place to help local authorities navigate this and assist them with new contracts, Mr Bird claimed.
Mr Bird added: “We have to follow very strict procurement rules, and while the costs are a huge implication it’s not right to say that that’s all local authorities look at— it is not.
“Local authorities have a duty to be vigilant and in the know in terms of the quality of these facilities and making sure materials are properly processed.”
[Updated: 01/08/2016 to clearly reflect LARAC position on recycling collections]