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
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
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
"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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