20 April 2021 by Joshua Doherty

GMCA reports big rise in paper contamination

A fall in the value of mixed paper towards the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 contributed to a large rise in the tonnage of recyclables rejected in Greater Manchester. 

An aerial view of Saica’s paper mill in Manchester, where the GMCA’s paper and card is sent

A report which will go before the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) tomorrow, 21 April,  shows that 6,563 tonnes of collected recycling were rejected between April and December 2020, up from just 652 tonnes the previous year.

A spokesperson from the Authority said the majority of the additional tonnage were from paper and card bins and were due to contamination “above acceptable levels”.

“This is a trend that has been seen nationally and is partly a result of stricter quality requirements at domestic paper mills, driven by the decline in the value of mixed paper,” the spokesperson added.


Paper and card is collected at the kerbside in Greater Manchester and delivered to transfer stations, where Suez operatives do a visual inspection and remove any large items of contamination, before it is bulked and sent to Saica.

A number of mills across the UK introduced stricter quality control measures when the value of recovered paper plummeted from October 2019. This meant mills were forced to increase contamination measures as markets tightened. Strengthened demand for cardboard and mixed paper during the pandemic saw prices rebound.

The spokesperson added: “The GMCA is working closely with our waste contractor, Suez, to review options for managing levels of contamination. We also work with nine of the councils in Greater Manchester on recycling communication campaigns to ensure residents know which materials can be recycled in which bins. This includes raising awareness of the environmental and economic impact of putting items into the incorrect bin, leading to contamination and an increase in rejected loads and disposal costs.”

Longley Lane

The contamination rate of material which goes through the Longley Lane MRF fell by .1%

While the tonnages of paper being rejected rose, the MRF contamination rate excluding paper actually fell from 18.2% to 18.1%.

The facility sorts commingled recycling (glass bottles and jars, food and drink cans, foil, aerosols and plastic bottles) from the kerbside collections across the Greater Manchester area.


The contract update also shows that total waste arisings rose from 849,134 tonnes in 2019 to 852,494 in 2020. The Authority’s recycling rate inched up to 46.41% in the period, from 46.38% in 2019.

Also noted was the GMCA’s landfill diversion rate, which stood at 98.39% for the quarter, up from 92.12% in 2019.

The report reads: “Overall, landfill diversion figures continue to progress in the right direction, remaining over 6% higher than last year, achieving a total rate of over 98% of material diverted away from landfill disposal. When considered as a tonnage, this means over 50kt less material went to landfill disposal than last year”.

The recycling rate at its HWRCs also saw an increase, jumping from 41.17% in 2019 to 46.48% in 2020.

The spokesperson added: “While contamination levels have increased, the total amount of recycling collected for the year April 2020 to March 2021 has also increased, and is estimated to be around 220,000 tonnes. New measures, including mattress and carpet recycling facilities, have been introduced to increase the amount of material we can recycle and cut waste across Greater Manchester”.


Representing an estimated population of 2.8 million,  the GMCA had a recycling rate of 47.7% in the 2019/20 financial year.

In May 2019 Suez UK signed two contracts worth a combined £1 billion with the GMCA to manage waste from the region (see letsrecycle.com story).


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