Rubbish at recycling, contamination diverts tons of waste to landfill


Most people want to recycle. Whatever hue of green you may be, however sceptical or in denial, the principle of reusing, reducing and recycling household waste is something most right thinking can get behind.

Landfill site, contamination means recyclable waste ends up here
Landfill site, contamination means recyclable waste ends up here

Unfortunately contamination rates rising by 84 per cent over the last four years has led to councils rejecting 338,000 tonnes of waste last year. This recyclable waste represents material lost to the system and needs extra energy to remake packaging and other items.

The nature of recycling waste means that there is no consistent national policy. Each local authority uses local recycling plants which all have different characteristics. Some can handle more contamination than others; some can cope with material in different forms.

Here are some common issues:

  • Putting recyclable item in the wrong bins – check the label.
  • Recyclable food containers have may still have too much food left – rinsing out is important.
  • You can leave metal caps on wine bottles and glass jars.
  • Plastic bottle tops on plastic bottles should be removed and placed in the bin separately.

Here is what can be recycled:

  • Paper: cardboard boxes, newspapers, magazines, envelopes, junk mail, food and drink cartons including Tetra Pak
  • Plastic: margarine and ice cream tubs, yoghurt pots, fruit punnets and ready meal trays
  • Bottles: drink, shampoo and detergent bottles
  • Tins and cans: both steel and aluminium, as well as aerosols
  • Kitchen foil and foil trays
  • Glass: all colours but no broken glass or ovenware

Here is what cannot be recycled:

  • Tissue and kitchen roll
  • Plastic wrap, cling film, bubble wrap and plastic bags
  • Coffee cups
  • Plastic and paper contaminated with food – including grease-stained pizza boxes and paper food plates
  • Crisp packets and sweet wrappers
  • Polystyrene
  • Nappies
  • Soft plastic / metallic packaging like pet food pouches

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “In the past decade, councils and residents have worked together to radically increase recycling and divert millions of tonnes of waste from landfill…

“The problem is there is widespread confusion over what can and cannot be recycled. If just one non-recyclable item is included with recyclable items, the whole bin is effectively contaminated. Councils then have to re-sort it, which is time consuming and very expensive.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to waste collection. What works in an inner city suburb won’t necessarily work in the countryside. The types which would suit a large detached house in the country would be completely unsuitable for a high-rise block of flats in inner-city London and vice versa.”

The Department for Environment said tremendous progress has been made in boosting recycling rates, but acknowledged more needed to be done.

Further reading and advice

Rejected recyclable waste up 84% in England since 2011, data shows

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of recycling is being diverted to landfill

Rejected recycling figure leads to calls for quality recycling

Defra targets recycling ‘confusion’ amid 3.5% reject claim

Can You Recycle Plastic Lids and Bottle Caps?

You Can Leave Your Cap On


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