Contaminated recycling rates on the rise
Despite this story not coming from our neck of the woods, this interesting article posted recently in the Lowestoft Journal documents how nearly 5,000 tonnes of waste was put in the wrong recycling bins last year. It's probably fair to say that most councils up and down the country face the same kind of dilemma each year, including East and West Sussex.
Why is it a problem?
Firstly, according to the article, the charity WRAP suggests that it costs approximately £93 for each tonne of contaminated waste to be disposed of correctly. When recycling isn't done properly, the entire batch can be contaminated, making it impossible to recycle efficiently. This not only hurts the pockets of the taxpayer, but it's also not good for the environment either. In other words, if it can't be recycled, it can't be re-used so new materials will have to be produced to replace it. In most cases, this is far less efficient from an energy point of view since in most cases, more energy needs to be created to manufacture new items rather than recycle used ones. It also means that new raw materials have to be produced too.
A worrying trend
Although we're not sure if this is the case in other districts, this particular example in Suffolk showed that the problem of contaminated recycling waste actually GREW from previous years. Namely, the increase was a whopping 86% on the previous 12 months. And, to further rub salt in the wound, it was also the largest since their records began in 2014.
What's gone wrong?
Although it's not entirely clear as to why this is happening, there are several possible factors that may be contributing to it. There's a phenomenon called green fatigue, whereby people simply get fed up with the whole process, often thinking that their small part will make little or no difference. In other words, there is a growing sense of apathy towards the whole idea of recycling coupled with a lack of routine and bad habits.
What could also be a factor is a general confusion of what items go in what bin or bag, and whether the item can even be recycled at all. Take Tetra Paks for example. These are the rectangular paper-covered cartons that things like fruit juice or long-life milk come in. Tetra Bricks contain a waxy coating and although some councils recycle them, others don't.
The last time we checked, Lewes Council didn't accept these for recycling so if you've just moved to Lewes from a place that does recycle the bricks, you might not think to check when throwing them in the recycling. One obvious step that each consumer can take is to either contact their local authority/visit their website to ascertain what is or isn't recyclable.
There's also the problem of food or other waste contamination, like metal tins containing paint or items that haven't been cleaned or rinsed such as yoghurt pots. It's also an issue when too many items go into the wrong recycling bin or bag. So, if you throw your glass bottles in the bin that is specifically for plastic, that's a contamination problem too.
What's the solution?
If we go back to the Lowestoft Journal article, it says that the local council actually started doing spot checks to make sure householders were doing things correctly. They left stickers on the bins explaining why the contents were contaminated. They also launched a leafleting campaign called "Together We Can Get Our Recycling Right" to make residents more aware of how to recycle correctly. In the months that followed, there was a drop in contaminated waste, meaning that their awareness efforts weren't in vain.
There's no doubt that councils could do more to raise awareness of the scale of the problem but, put simply, if we take responsibility for our own actions and make the effort to find the information out for ourselves, things would improve. Oh, and taking the time to wash recyclable items thoroughly would also make a huge difference too.