Scottish survey finds low contamination levels in source separated recycling


A survey by Zero Waste Scotland has found that contamination levels of recycling sorted at the point of collection tend to be low.

The study, which was supported by the Scottish Government, examined contamination levels in five key recyclable materials. These were plastic, glass, metals, paper and card.


Most contamination was found in the metal waste stream, with plastics the most common contaminant across all streams.

The report follows the implementation of the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations at the beginning of the year that require key materials to be presented separately for collection unless it can be demonstrated that the quantity and quality of material captured through commingling is not significantly lower than that delivered through separate collection systems.

It supports the Scottish Government’s ambitions to see high quality recycling systems that maximise the value of materials which flow through the Scottish economy and provides important evidence on the minimum levels of contamination that will need to be achieved in order to comply             with Scottish legislation.

Zero Waste Scotland director Iain Gulland (pictured) said: “Poor quality of material has long been regarded as a key issue for the resource industry, with contamination playing a major part in this. To date we haven’t had any robust data on this, so it’s great to be able to address this gap.

“Harnessing the maximum value from materials we collect for recycling is vital to achieving our zero waste goals and in helping us to move towards realising the environmental and economic benefits of becoming a more circular economy.”

Smurfit Kappa Recycling external affairs manager Peter Seggie was involved in the project steering group for the report on behalf of the Resource Association.

He said: “The report itself summarises: ‘contamination levels in source-separated municipal recyclate were generally low’. This chimes with the approach maintained by the Association that, even recognising that materials come from all kinds of collections, our members still generally prefer source-separated materials as they have tended to produce consistently better quality feedstock for UK reprocessors.

“The report set out the high bar on quality that must be achieved by those collection and sorting systems needing to demonstrate that they can conform to the separate collection requirements of the revised Waste Framework Directive as transposed into local legislation.

“Taking into consideration that the report labels as ‘contaminants’ elements that relate to the same physical material as that targeted (ie paper, card in paper and glass of the wrong colour), the results show just how supportive separate collections are to the development of a truly circular economy. Maintaining the integrity of key materials remains a vital ingredient necessary for a healthy and viable reprocessing sector integral to the circular economy.”