It’s time to end the confusion around contamination

Julian Gaylor, Sales and Marketing Director at Taylor, argues that there needn’t be confusion around waste contamination.

Recycling is now a priority and a process that is well and truly etched on the minds of the public.

The appetite for recycling is huge - and growing - and people are now fully aware of the implications of not recycling and the landfill limitations of our planet. There are now more technologies and services than ever before that exist solely to facilitate recycling and it is now much easier for the end user to contribute to sustainable living.

However, despite this positive shift I believe that one of the biggest challenges the waste industry now faces is the issue of waste contamination. Ensuring that the quality of waste increases and levels of poor recyclate decreases is now a national priority.

The good news is that the recent report from Zero Waste Scotland, entitled ‘Contamination in source-separated municipal and business recyclate in the UK 2013’, reveals that contamination is 'generally low' in source-separated streams. Yet it also states that improvements can still be made and that more should be done to make the end user aware of what does and does not constitute recyclate.

Having worked at various levels of the waste spectrum I would agree. There is still a knowledge gap when it comes to the public’s attitudes to recycling. I’ve had countless conversations with a diverse range of ‘end users’, most of whom accept that glass goes to recycling yet assume that co-mingled waste goes to landfill simply because of the fact that it’s mixed.

From a manufacturer’s standpoint, the public’s evolution towards a greater propensity to recycle has also brought with it greater collaboration up and down the supply chain. Gone are the days of businesses operating in the waste sector simply launching a product or service without putting too much thought into its longevity or where, when or how it will be used once it has left the factory. The outcome and results derived from a product’s on-going usage are now just as important as the research and development that goes into launching it.

The waste industry is more inclusive now than it ever has been, which is great as it facilitates greater collaboration with other companies and ultimately helps to drive engagement in recycling and minimise waste sent to landfill. However, is the waste sector missing a trick by failing to spot the small things that, if addressed, could yield big results?

Taylor, for example, worked with Veolia and Westminster Council to develop a locking device that locks a bin internally so that the lids cannot be lifted and waste indiscriminately thrown over the top instead of using the correct aperture. It’s a simple and inexpensive solution, yet one that has been hugely effective. I also know that there are many more simple products currently on the market that, if implemented, could have a huge and positive impact on contamination-related issues.

Of course, there is always more that could be done from an educational standpoint to make end users more aware. However, based on the last two decades – in which the gulf between the output of the waste industry and the actions of the general public has decreased – I am confident that the next two decades will see the quality of recyclate increase in tandem with the general public’s appetite for recycling.

The waste sector just needs to capitalise on this shift in attitudes, continue to communicate up and down the supply chain in order to ensure that the products and services it provides are relevant, and boost educational output to ensure that people know the implications of contaminated waste and, wherever possible, what they can do to minimise it. There needn’t be confusion around contamination and it's the responsibility of the waste industry to lead by example and demonstrate why.

Julian Gaylor is the Sales and Marketing Director at Taylor.