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Can we sort quality?

It would seem that we have been debating the quality of materials collected through UK recycling schemes for many years. In fact, it’s fair to say, it’s now running into decades and it is frustrating we find ourselves living this ‘Groundhog Day’ existence.

The fact remains that if you put rubbish in you get rubbish out. That is true regardless of the infrastructure or collection systems deployed. We have the knowledge, experience and even the finance to build state-of-the-art recycling facilities to process collected material, but the fact is that technology alone cannot, and most likely will never be able to, completely and cost-effectively eradicate the unnecessary levels of contamination that we continually face.

Here at the Casepak MRF we can receive as much as up to 15% of non-target materials. This has a direct impact on our processes and our efficiencies. It also has major cost implications and clearly impacts on our added value within the resource recovery chain.

Our newly implemented quality grading system at the MRF will help to combat input of non-target materials by providing statistical grading results to local authorities in a bid to continually improve the materials supplied. But what else can be done collectively?

1. Improve clarity and consistency
It’s hard for residents to get to grips with the type of material that can be recycled. For example, we have the technology to recycle many plastics efficiently, but not others. In some areas butter and yoghurt pots are good recycling materials, in others they are excluded. So, local authorities and suppliers need to work harder at developing clear, engaging messages and getting them heard.

2. More education
We all know that recycling behaviours can be influenced by improving access to education. It’s important that local authority recycling teams work closely with their education counterparts to maximise the opportunities for us (the suppliers) to provide effective outreach programmes.

3. Include the public in the debate
Talking amongst ourselves in the industry isn’t changing the behaviours that result in contamination. People make changes because they believe it is right to do so, because there are incentives in place, or because there are direct penalties for not doing something right. Leaving aside penalties and incentives, we should be trying harder than ever to make the public understand the recycling landscape and take responsibility for their actions.

The battle for better quality cannot be fought and won without a joined up approach.
It’s time to upscale the issue to ensure the same argument doesn’t keep churning around in the recycling industry.

Enough of Groundhog Days!