Brian Gist, head of TOMRA Sorting UK, explains that councils should be trying to ‘keep recycling simple’ by maintaining dry commingled collections, as modern Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) can isolate high quality recyclates from completely mixed waste streams.
OPINION: Wales continues to outperform other UK nations when it comes to household recycling rates and now ranks second in the world for recycling at home, with 63% of general waste collected by local authorities reused, recycled or composted. This success is not mirrored by other parts the UK however, where recycling rates have stagnated at around 43% to 46% over the past few years.
Irrespective of the outcome of Brexit, the UK Government has committed to recycling 50% of household waste by 2020 and 65% by 2035, the latter as set out in Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy.
As a result, many local authorities will currently be reviewing their waste strategies to see how best to boost recycling levels and push past this current period of stagnation, but there is a real risk that some will revert to increased source segregation of waste at the kerbside. Rather than relying on the public to do more complicated source segregation at the kerbside, councils should instead make recycling as easy as possible for their householders as this is what will ultimately boost recovery volumes.
Our message to councils is ‘keep it simple’. Although high quality is not dependent on source separation and modern MRFs can isolate high quality recyclates from completely mixed waste streams, the volume of material recovered is much higher if the householder does not need to do too much source segregation.
Dry comingled collections – where householders place all clean paper, card, mixed plastics including pots tubs and trays and cans – are proven to capture significantly more material than source segregated collections. Similarly, the more you ask the householder to put items in different bins, the lower the quantity of recyclates arriving in those bins – with the remainder going to residual waste. For this reason, TOMRA believes the main message councils should be promoting to householders is ‘keep it clean’ as this will reduce contamination problems once the material reaches MRFs. In 2017, for example, over 467,000 tonnes of household recycling in England was reported as rejected from recycling plants.
The importance of product labelling should also not be underestimated. Great progress has been made in this regard in recent years, but there is still more that can be done. The clearer the recycling message on product labelling, the more likely the householder is to recycle it, rather than simply add it to their black bag waste because it’s the ‘easier option’.
“Modern MRFs can isolate high quality recyclates from completely mixed waste streams.”
The investment in automated MRFs over recent years has made it abundantly clear that we have the technology to target almost any recyclable fraction and separate it at the quantity and quality demanded by global markets. Sensor-based sorting systems can achieve recovery rates of up to 99% and typical purity rates of 95%, even from mixed black bag waste. There is, therefore, no need for councils to make householders take ultimate responsibility for sorting their waste when MRF planners have access to advanced technology that can process this waste far quicker, more effectively and with much greater accuracy than the human eye could ever achieve.
So, as we move towards 2020 and then beyond to the 65% target for 2035, efforts must focus on making recycling as easy as possible for householders and ensuring that our MRFs are appropriately designed to extract maximum value from our waste, irrespective of the collection method.