Environment Minister Lord de Mauley has written to local authorities to tell them to introduce separate collections of paper, plastics, metals and glass for recycling.
Although commingled recycling will be allowed in some circumstances, he warned that paper and glass must always be kept separate.
He added that these four key materials should also be kept separate from other waste streams.
In the letter, he wrote: “The increase in recycling rates has slowed. To reach our EU target, recycling 50 per cent of all household waste by 2020, will require sustained effort, and while we have seen the amount of recycling increase, this has not been accompanied by an increase in the quality of recyclates coming through.
“So we need to push ahead on all fronts, driving up both quantity and quality while driving down costs. To build up our local and rural economies we want our domestic glass and paper industries to be able to rely on a consistent supply of a good standard of recyclates produced here, without resorting to imports. Local authorities have an important role to play in achieving this, but they will need good information about what happens to the recyclates they collect.
“It is for that reason that we are hoping to publish new regulations this winter, requiring information about the quality of recyclates that our materials recovery facilities produce. It is also the reason why we fully support the new requirements for the separate collection of waste paper, plastic, glass and metal.”
The Minister warned local authorities that they could not carry on as normal if they had a commingled collection scheme.
He wrote: “It appears that some local authorities may be taking the view that commingled collections of paper, glass, plastic and metal waste stream will remain permissible in all circumstances after 1 January 2015. I therefore thought it would be helpful now to remind local authorities of the effect of the regulations.
“From 1 January 2015 an establishment or undertaking which collects waste paper, metal, plastic or glass must do so by way of separate collection. These requirements apply where separate collection:
a) is necessary, in effect, to provide high quality recyclates, and
b) is technically, environmentally and economically practicable.
“Where waste paper, metal, plastic or glass has been collected separately all reasonable steps must be taken to keep that stream separate from other waste streams wherever this is necessary to provide high quality recyclates.
“It is clear that the intention is that these requirements should represent a high hurdle. I am aware that commingled metal and plastic are relatively easy to separate at a MRF. However, at present many of our existing MRFs struggle to keep glass shards out of the paper stream. In addition, many MRFs produce low quality mixed glass which needs further sorting and can be uneconomic to re-smelt. I look to local authorities actively to address these problems, by the effective implementation of the new regulations and by tackling problems with operating practices.
“Separate collection does not of course mean that each household will need more bins. For example, many areas have kerbside sort systems where materials are sorted before being loaded into the waste collection vehicle. The WRAP website is a useful source of help.”
Lord de Mauley warned councils that they should ensure they are positioning themselves to meet their legal duties from 2015 particularly if they plan to move away from separate collection or include glass within commingled collections.
He advised them to consult lawyer if necessary and keep a “clear audit trail given the potential for legal challenge”.