Contamination of Recycling

Plastics contaminating cardboard & paper waste streams is widespread

Contamination of recycling streams in communal settings can be a significant issue with some Councils reporting between 25-30% contamination of communal recycling bins. Plastic contamination amongst card and paper recycling material is particularly common and in 2020 paper recycling specialists DS Smith reported enough plastic contamination at their paper mill to fill 4.8 million bin bags.

Volumes of card and paper recycling dramatically increased during the pandemic posing a challenge for many local authorities both in terms of collection capacity but also subsequent contamination of this waste stream. While the volume of card and paper recyclables has reduced post-pandemic, the baseline tonnage often remains 10-15% higher than pre-Covid levels.

Contaminated recycling often ends up in landfill

Contamination is often worse with larger containers as one offending item can lead to 1100L of material being rejected and ending up in landfill sites. Non-recyclables like food waste, textiles and used nappies are commonly found in collections from mixed recycling points. Consequently, some councils favour having recycling collected in smaller wheelie bins to limit the volume of recyclables contaminated at any one time. 

Separate and more frequent collections of recyclables can be a key step in helping to reduce contamination and improve the quality of recyclable materials. A number of supporting steps can be implemented to help prevent contamination at the point of capture, including restricted apertures on bin units, clear signage and convenient access to recycling points in communal settings. Signage is a key component with many local authorities testing their approach to messaging, often outlining exactly what can and can not be deposited in specific bins. Clear signage combined with separate apertures and collection points for card-only recycling, glass bottles and WEEE recyclables can help to significantly reduce contamination.  

Dedicated bin housings, restricted apertures & clear signage help prevent contamination

While smaller bins can be used they are much less efficient in terms of manpower and use of space. Securing larger containers within dedicated housings with restricted apertures and clear signage will prevent contamination but still accommodate large volumes of material. To help tackle some of the key pain points around the separation of quality recyclables, metroSTOR’s range of external bin stores has been designed to be paired with a range of signage and aperture options. 

Read more about our range of recycling bin storage.