Rejection of recyclable waste by local authorities has soared

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A Freedom of Information request by the BBC has found that the amount of material destined for recycling that has been rejected has jumped by 84% over four years.

Councils were unable to recycle 338,000 tonnes of waste in 2014-15 compared to 184,000 tonnes in 2011-12.

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The BBC largely attributes this to householder contamination resulting from a lack of understanding about recycling schemes across the country. With different materials being collected across the country, the report says that householders are confused about what can and can’t be placed in their recycling bins.

The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellins agrees that collections confusion is a problem, but says that there are other contributing factors to take into consideration.

He said: “The UK has never had a standardised recycling collection and so this is unlikely to be the single cause for an increase in rejections.

“Consistency of collection would improve the quality achieved, but there is a fundamental lack of understanding by the householder in the first place which goes beyond this. The collection system is irrelevant if householders are not trained sufficiently to use it.

“The onus is on local authorities to get this right in the first place. They must also audit output quality and help regulate who handles the material and where it goes.

“This last point is important as the reality is that there are UK recyclers who continue to operate at sub-standard (and sometimes illegal) levels. They are deliberately flouting regulations, trying to trade low quality materials.

“These illegal operators have, in the past, provided an outlet for sub-standard materials and local authorities and regulators, along with The Recycling Association, need to work together to put a stop to this.

“The MRF Code of Practise operated by bona fide operators has definitely assisted this as has the China Green fence, for example.

“While we don’t want to see recyclables landfilled, we welcome rejections by the waste management companies if we are to move forward and improve our industry in the long-term.

“What we’re seeing now should be a period of short term pain followed by a period of realignment.

“Partnerships are key to improved delivery and understanding what feedstock quality the UK and export markets actually require. Clear guidance and a pro-active approach from the regulator is a key element of this partnership. We all need to understand what quality protocol we are working to and what is legal and illegal. This will remove any ambiguity for bona fide operators.

“We have to start planning for the future, ensuring we have the best quality materials in a global context which will, in turn, offer us a multitude of opportunities to market our materials,” he said.