Scotland examines kerbside contamination


Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) has announced that it has commissioned a ‘major’ study into the levels of contamination from recyclable materials separated and sorted at the kerbside.

Undertaken by RPS Consulting, the study will examine samples of separately-collected materials to assess typical levels of contamination in five key streams: paper, card, glass, plastics and metals. 

In total, the research will analyse both household and commercial and industrial waste from 162 sites across the UK, including local authorities, bulking stations, transfer stations, and reprocessors. 

Speaking of the study, Project Director Barbara Leach said: “It’s critical that as many operators agree to take part as possible so we can be sure we have a reliable picture of recyclate quality. We appreciate that for some sites it may mean a little inconvenience, but we will work with you to minimise that – and we’ll be on site for just one day. Your help will ensure that the project is a success.”

Maximising quality is ‘essential’ 

Speaking of recyclate quality, Iain Gulland, Director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Maximising quality is essential if we are to realise the economic and environmental benefits of recycling and develop a more circular economy.

“This is an important study which will give operators of co-mingled collections a clear indication of the standards they might be expected to meet to comply with the new regulations.”

Gary Walker, Principal Policy Officer at SEPA, added: “SEPA welcomes this study as we will require good baseline information to help target our regulatory efforts where they will most effectively support high-quality recycling.

“This study will also enable the local authorities and waste management contractors who provide collection services to determine whether their collection systems are sufficiently robust to deliver the quantity and quality of recyclate required.”

It is hoped the results of the study will be released in 'the first quarter of 2014'.

Recyclate quality debate

There has been much debate recently over the best way of collecting recyclables, with those supporting co-mingled collections arguing that it makes it easier for householders to recycle and sees larger levels of material collected, while those in opposition argue that separate collections see lower levels of contamination, and thus produce higher-quality recyclate, and ultimately, higher volumes of material once processed. 

It is this emphasis on high-quality recyclate that forms the basis of the Scottish Government’s new waste regulations, which will require dry recyclable materials (and, with the exception of rural areas, food waste), to be collected separately from one another from January 2014, except where it can be demonstrated that a co-mingled collection can achieve similar levels of recyclate quality. 

This in accordance with the European Commission’s (EC) revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) that states that local authorities will need to run separate collections of dry recyclables by 2015, unless they can prove that separate collections are not technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP) and that co-mingled collections can achieve the right quality of recyclate (yet to be defined).

It was this directive, and the UK and Welsh Government’s transposition of it, that formed the basis of the Campaign for Real Recycling’s judicial review, heard in High Court earlier this year.

According to ZWS, the results of its new study will help create a benchmark for quality levels ‘typically obtained through separate collections’, which will help inform how the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) enforces the waste regulations. 

The research forms part of Scottish Government proposals in its Recyclate Quality Action Plan.