Milton Keynes faces £1.75m bill for recycling contamination

Milton Keynes Council has agreed a £1.75-million legal settlement with its waste management contractor Viridor over contamination of recycling, and has called on residents to help improve recycling to avoid future costs.

The settlement relates to claims that up to 25 per cent of bags of recyclable waste collected by Viridor under the council’s waste management contract between 2013 and 2019 have been rendered unusable due to contamination with used nappies, pet waste, crisp packets and food waste.

Milton Keynes faces £1.75m bill for recycling contaminationRecycling collected in Milton Keynes is taken to the council’s materials recycling facility (MRF) in Wolverton, which is run by Viridor, where the collected material is processed, with recovered materials sold on and contaminated material disposed of.

Contamination issues became apparent when the council switched from pink to clear recycling sacks in early 2018, revealing incorrect items placed in the sacks. The levels of contamination far exceed the initial estimates made by the council at the start of the contract, which runs from 2009 until 2023, with predictions of a 10 per cent contamination rate turning out to be wide of the mark.

It was initially claimed that Milton Keynes Council would be hit with a £3-million bill to repay the revenue lost by Viridor due to the contamination. However, the settlement between the two parties will see Milton Keynes pay out £1.75 million, though it could be liable for “hundreds of thousands of pounds every year in penalty fees” if current rates of contamination continue, according to the council.

A Milton Keynes Council statement continued: “Around one in four sacks in MK are contaminated by dirty nappies, pet waste and food, so materials can’t be recovered, undermining recycling efforts. This is higher than the tolerance for contamination built into the recycling contract.”

In order to get contamination under control, the council has asked residents to “take more care about what they put in recycling sacks to avoid unnecessary future costs”.

Councillor Ric Brackenbury, who chairs the council’s scrutiny management committee, said: “The council was asleep for too long on rising contamination levels in recycling. There’s a big job to do to make sure we keep recycling but only put the right items in our recycling sacks.”

A Viridor spokesperson confirmed that the company and Milton Keynes Council had reached a settlement, adding: “Viridor is pleased to have resolved this issue and looks forward to working with the council to reduce contamination and maximise efforts to boost recycling, putting valuable resources back into the UK economy.”