Wandsworth council is calling on its residents to be more vigilant when recycling after finding that 17% of materials put out for collection are contaminants.
And, the council said that if the problem continues some areas could have their recycling bins removed as a result.
Waste contractor Serco operates weekly kerbside collections of recyclables on behalf of the council. The items that can be recycled through this service are: paper and card; glass; plastic bottles, tubs and trays; cans; and TetraPaks. Once collected, the material is sent to Cory Environmentals materials recycling facility (MRF) in Smugglers Way.
However items which are not accepted for recycling are often finding their way into the recycling bags and bins. These include: certain types of plastics; textiles; food waste; waste electrical and electronic items (WEEE); and, shredded paper.
Wandsworth said that contamination could cost tax payers up to 400,000 extra a year, as it has to pay twice for the same material – once for it to be sorted at a materials recycling facility (MRF) and then for it to be disposed of.
Shaun Morley, head of waste management at Wandsworth, told letsrecycle.com: We are not really sure why the contamination is high. As you know it is a new MRF and the regime for sampling is fairly stringent. It is possibly more stringent than some of the other MRFs around the country. As it is new maybe they are being more careful and more selective about the waste.
Mr Morley added that one reason for the contamination could be because residents living in high-rise buildings have their recycling collected in a communal bin meaning it is difficult to stop people putting bags of residual waste in them. The level of contamination for these bins is even higher than 17%, at almost 25%.
The council is looking to combat the contamination problem through a range of measures, including communication campaigns. Mr Morley explained: At the moment we are working with the Western Riverside Waste Authority and they are supplying us with the sampling information that we can track back to the areas that it was collected from. These areas will be targeted through communication schemes and we have put locks on the bins used for high rise so people have to put their recycling through a smaller hole. As a last resort, if we have got a really bad site, we will just take the recycling bins out and rely on residual waste.
However this is an absolute last resort after all the other measures have been put in place and we are still not making progress.
Mr Morley said that he remained confident that it would not come to this.
Wandsworth is one of the four councils in the Western Riverside Waste Authority. The other councils are: Hammersmith and Fulham; Lambeth; and, Kensington and Chelsea. Mr Morley said the contamination rate across the other councils is thought to be similar to that in Wandsworth, at around 20%.