Commingling could 'dramatically improve' recycling - Greenstar UK


One of Britain's leading recycling companies has said that wider use of commingled (mixed) recycling collection could 'dramatically improve' the UK's recycling record.

Ian Wakelin, CEO of recycling and waste management company Greenstar UK, said that commingled collections are simpler for recyclers to use, encourage higher participation, are easier and safer to operate, produce greater recyclables recovery rates and are as cost-effective as alternative methods. "Used in the right place and in the right way - at home or in the workplace - commingling could dramatically improve the country's recycling record" - he claimed.

Greenstar is investing millions to build new, highly-automated materials recycling facilities (MRFs), which can process commingled recyclabes to high quality standards. It has just opened one of the UK's largest MRFs at Aldridge, near Birmingham, to process up to 300,000 tonnes of recyclables annually.

Wakelin is frustrated by the 'strident and often misleading' arguments voiced by critics of commingled collections. "They are wasting valuable energy and public goodwill fighting a losing battle" - he said. "They should accept that commingling collections are here to stay as part of the recycling landscape."

Nearly 150 English local authorities (nearly half the total) currently collect one or more commingled materials - typically, dry recyclables like paper, cardboard and plastic, metal and glass containers. These can be single stream collection (all in one wheeled bin) or dual stream, where paper is usually collected separately from containers.

Segregated kerbside collections, where all materials are kept separate in their own collection box and sorted at the roadside, are also used by many councils. Wakelin stated that both collection systems have their place in the recycling chain, according to the needs, geography and density of local authority areas. "It's about horses for courses" - said the Greenstar UK CEO - "as kerbside segregated collection may not be best for high population zones where space is tight and access roads jammed."

Commingled collections are probably also the only realistic collection system for increasing commercial and industrial recycling - a sector where improvements must be made. Commerce, industry and construction produce about six tonnes of waste for every tonne of household waste.

Wakelin explained that businesses often have space constraints and want to avoid complexity. "If recycling is simple and takes up no more space than traditional waste disposal containers, then it's well received. Lots of collection containers requiring materials separation at the business premises are just unacceptable to most busy organisations" - he stated.

Greenstar has found that commingled collection can improve household recycling volumes by 15% or more - and its commercial customers have seen recycling rates rocket by up to 45%. "Just think what Britain's national recycling rate could be if commingling was more commonplace" - said Wakelin.

Whatever the collection method, all recyclables ultimately go to a materials recycling facility (MRF), where they are separated and cleaned for sale for reprocessing and remanufacture by the paper, plastics, metal and glass industries.

Critics of commingled collections claim that commingled materials tend to be more contaminated and that inefficient MRF processing leads to lower output quality and, therefore, higher rejection rates by reprocessors.

Wakelin countered - "They argue that segregation is the only way to guarantee recyclate quality - and, therefore, acceptability - by secondary markets. We challenge that view, as modern, properly-run MRFS can produce commingled recyclates whose quality matches that produced from kerbside sorted materials."

He said he was "delighted" by a recent WRAP study, announced last week, which echoed his belief. The 'MRF dissemination'  study concluded that well-run MRFs - using the latest technology - can process paper that is collected commingled with glass, to as high a quality as paper sourced from kerbside sort collections.

He added - "WRAP's findings show that glass collected as part of a commingled stream and processed through a modern MRF, could, for the most part, be used in the glass remelt industry - the gold standard measure of recycling benefit."

Modern generation MRFs are designed to process mixed and separated materials. As Wakelin explained - "For example, our new super MRF at Aldridge processes materials collected either commingled or source-separated - and to the same high standards."

He emphasised that modern MRFs can - and do - hit 96% or more recovery rates and added that the proof of MRF quality was that Greenstar, like other processors, supplies recyclates to the reprocessor and remanufacture industries.

He said it was "ironic" that commingling critics recently told a major waste authority that a solution to the quality issue was to build and run MRFs that concentrate on quality.

"If we, as a nation, are going to regard recyclables as a resource, then we have to stop treating them as waste. Higher participation rates are a must. Quality materials are a must - and commingled collections are a must if we are going to recycle more and recycle better" - he concluded.

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