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Waste Mix-Ups Cause Chaos and Cost for Councils as Rogue Plastics Contaminate Materials for Recycling

May 18, 2021 4:35 PM
Originally published by Nick Hollinghurst - promoting social democracy as a Liberal Democrat and working for a greener world!

plastic bottlesA report in Local Government First reveals that in 2019/20 more than half a million tonnes of household waste collected for recycling could not be sorted and had to be rejected. This is because non-recyclable material had been placed in the wheely bins.

However, a Lib Dem councillor on Dacorum Borough Council, Nick Hollinghurst says, "This is a real problem - but we shouldn't blame the public. It is actually quite difficult to know which types of plastic can be recycled and which cannot. Some common ones, including crisp packets, salad bags and plastic wrap are incredibly hard to recycle.

Also anything black will be rejected by the optical equipment used to sort waste."

"Not many people know that, and although some plastic materials are maked as being unrecyclable, those little symbols on the bottoms of containers and easy to miss! We can't expect the puiblic to go to heroic lengths to get this right, they need to play their part in recycling but industry and local authorities need to make it easier at the wheely bin end of the recycling journey."

"While the amount of plastic packaging material that councils collect has doubled over past 10 years this is still far too little. After all, twice not very much can still be... well, not very much!"

According to the Local Government Association (LGA) (which helps, advises and represents local authorities), manufacturers are still producing and distributing far too much plastic packaging that can't be recycled. In addition, the LGA believes that manufacturers are failing to contribute adequately to the cost of recovery and recycling these materials.

It is of course essential these materials are removed from the environment, instead of being sent to landfill at a cost of £115 (inc. landfill tax). One alternative - which although it produces electricity - does nothing to cut CO2 emissions is disposal at an Energy from Waste facility. However, apart from this being sub-optimal, each tonne sent to EfW costs £93.

This compares to a value of ca. £400 per tonne for cleaned, baled, palleted and strapped natural HDPE bottles (HDPE = High Density Polyethylene). You will get ca. £200 per tonne for clear or light blue PET bottles (PET = Poyethylene terephthalte) or mixed coloured HDPE. For mixed-coloured bottles in a mix of materials, you might get £50 a tonne and for coloured PET and PTT (PTT = Pots, Tubs and Trays), if you're lucky you might get it taken off your hands without a fee i.e. at zero value.

You can see that there's good economic sense in recycling if it's done properly - between the landfill cost of £115 and the value of the best grade of clean bottles there's over £500 per tonne to play with.

However, in order for this to work, manufacturers must restrict the range of materials they use, kerbside sorting must be made easier for households and the government must enforce standards and ensure manufacturers contribute to collection, recycling and disposal costs.