A substantial rise in the amount of material being rejected at Greater Manchester’s materials recycling facility has been put down to stricter quality requirements for recycled material.
That’s according to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) – the waste disposal authority for 10 councils in Greater Manchester.
In total, 343.88 tonnes of kerbside collected recycling was rejected at the Sharston MRF from April to July 2018. This is considerably higher than the 195.86 tonnes rejected on delivery to the MRF for the same period in 2017.
The figures come from an interim services contract update for the authority’s waste and recycling committee last month, which noted the “significant increase in upfront rejection of kerbside loads”.
The MRF at Sharston is owned by GMCA and operated by Viridor under an interim contract (see letsrecycle.com story). The facility sorts mixed recycling including plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars, aluminium and steel cans, aerosols and foil. Paper and card is sent to a separate sorting facility in Trafford Park.
It is also revealed in the report that contamination levels in the output (post-processing) materials were 17.14% from April-July 2018. This was a marginal drop from a rate of 17.48% for the same period the previous year.
The majority of the rejected material is sent to the Runcorn energy from waste plant.
When contacted by letsrecycle.com, a spokesperson for GMCA explained that the increase in the rejection of recyclables is due to “changes in the global recyclate market particularly paper and card.”
“More stringent quality controls means that we have seen an increase in the amount of rejected loads of recycling.”Spokesperson
“More stringent quality controls means that we have seen an increase in the amount of rejected loads of recycling.”
The spokesperson also pointed to the increased media interest in plastics pollution, which has meant residents have become “more aware of the impacts of plastics”.
“In Greater Manchester, we only collect plastic bottles for recycling, as there is no sustainable market for low grade mixed pots, tubs and trays,” the spokesperson said.
In its Communications and Behavioural Change Consumer facing Deliver Strategy January 2018 to March 2019, Recycle for Manchester, explains that contamination remains an issue and consumers “are still confused about what can and can’t be recycled though local services”.
Only 12% of the Greater Manchester population “did not contaminate at all in their mixed recycling bin,” the strategy reveals. Plastic remains the main contaminate, including plastic tubs (42%), plastic pots (39%), clear trays (31%), plastic wrapping (31%), plastic bags and wrapping (29%).
The research began in April 2017 as part of work to deliver Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority’s five year communications and behavioural change strategy.
The situation in Greater Manchester appears to reflect the growing amount of non-target and non-recyclable material being received at MRFs across England.
Data published by WRAP earlier this year showed that the volume of target materials received at England’s MRFs for the first quarter of 2018 was the lowest since reporting began (see letsrecycle.com story).
In total, 84.9% of material received was target material, which is marginally lower than the 85.6% for Q4 2017, and the lowest percentage of target material per quarter since reporting began in 2014.
When contacted by letsrecycle.com, Jakob Rindegren, recycling policy advisor at waste industry trade body, ESA, said there are a “combination” of factors which could be leading to the high levels of rejected materials being recorded.
“Quality requirements are becoming stricter,” he said. “And it depends on how they [MRF operators] are enforcing stricter quality and how they report it.”
Factors include materials being rejected before the MRF as well as “ways it is being sorted, tighter market requirements, also budget cuts for local authorities,” he said.
Mr Rindegren stressed the importance of improving quality given the tighter import restrictions being imposed by countries, such as China, on recycled materials from the UK.
To tackle the issue of contamination, GMCA is delivering a behaviour change campaign, based on research and best practice.
The GMCA spokesperson continued: “We are focussing on a plastic bottles only message in Tameside and Oldham and in Manchester, Bolton and Salford the campaign is around paper and card contamination. This is supported by a consumer facing advertising and digital strategy based on evidence from customer surveys to allow us to deliver clear messages using a range of media.”
The five campaigns encourage residents to think carefully about what goes in which recycling container by providing information leaflets and leaving stickers on bins (see letsrecycle.com story). GMCA is also using advertising and social media activity to support the campaigns.