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MRF Blog

Rising MRF contamination is a major issue for the recycling sector

Last week, I was interviewed by leading waste and recycling trade publication LetsRecycle. The article looked at the ways in which contamination is reducing the efficiency of material recycling facilities (MRFs).

Contamination is one of the most problematic issues that we face at our MRF as objects are often placed in the wrong bins or insufficiently cleaned before being recycled. In the final quarter of 2019, research found that across the country almost 17% of the material sent to MRFs was contaminated, and therefore unrecyclable.

Over the past year, the level of contamination appears to have worsened as we have started producing more waste at home. Reports have suggested a rise in ‘wish-cycling’, the process of putting things in your recycling bin without checking if they are recycled in your area.

Although our MRF is designed to separate different materials, it is programmed to deal with particular materials entering the facility in the first place. Therefore, if items are placed in the wrong bin then they will not be separated properly and can interfere with the process.

In addition to these issues, food contamination has a large effect on our recycling efficiency. If they still have food inside them, containers cannot be recycled and if they are wet they may make other material, such as cardboard, unrecyclable as well.

Meanwhile, nappies in the recycling stream are an issue not just for Casepak, but for the recycling industry as a whole. During a typical day at the MRF we can remove more than 1,000 nappies from the mixed paper recycling stream – that’s around 15 nappies every 10 minutes based on the MRF working at 100% capacity.

Recycling is vital to reducing energy consumption and waste as we seek to counter the Climate Emergency, but despite our advanced technology effective recycling still requires people to be sensible about what and how they recycle. Without consistent efforts to reduce contamination, the United Kingdom will struggle to improve upon our 46% recycling rate.

Each person can make a difference and help to improve the volume of recycling by taking the time to understand which materials can be recycled and into which bins such items should be placed. If in doubt people should check with their local authority responsible for waste and recycling collection, or read our handy recycling guide for more information and tips.


Jacob Smith is Casepak’s Operations Manager