Businesses are being urged to reassess their processes for collecting and managing recyclable material after it emerged up to 40 percent of material sent to recycling facilities could be ending up in landfill.
According to a Sunday Times expose last week, recycling companies are routinely forced to dump tens of thousands of tons of material collected from households because it is so contaminated or badly sorted that it cannot be recycled.
Speaking to BusinessGreen, Andy Moore, coordinator for the Campaign for Real Recycling, confirmed that while official figures showed that between 12 and 15 percent of recyclable material was rejected because of contamination anecdotal evidence suggested the rate could reach 40 percent at some facilities that are operating at capacity. "We don't have a waste problem in this country, we have a mixed waste problem," he added.
The problem is not thought to be as pronounced for waste collected from businesses, but some recycling industry experts insisted some business premises were guilty of handing over material that can not be recycled and ends up in landfill.
"For manufacturing and retail there is not a massive problem because they are aware of the financial value of recyclable material and they know it makes sense to sort it properly and guard against co-mingling," explained Dick Searle, chief executive of The Packaging Federation. "But for offices and event-based businesses it can be a very different story, because, as with the household market, you don't have employee awareness of the importance of properly sorting material."
According to Searle many offices still don't have any recycling facilities and where they do the provision of only one collection facility can result in co-mingled waste that is ill suited for recycling.
"[To be sure material is being recycled] firms need to provide separate collection for not just paper, but also aluminium and plastic and so on," Searle advised. "The problem in the UK is that the recycling culture is not there and nor is the system to reinforce that culture."
However, other industry sources insisted that businesses could be confident that very little of the material they send for recycling ends up in landfill.
"Businesses tend to have specialist collectors for different materials so there is less of a problem with mixed waste," argued one source. "There is a challenge for recyclers when materials are mixed together, but the Sunday Times article was overly pessimistic about the scale of the problem. There is an issue with contaminated waste for the paper sector, but it is a very small proportion that is not being recycled. Equally, the glass industry cannot turn mixed glass waste into new bottles and jars, but it can be used as aggregate - it is not being sent to landfill."
Ultimately however firms keen to ensure waste is properly recycled should ensure different types of waste are collected separately and also follow the same principles that apply to any business process by using spot checks to audit the entire recycling lifecycle.
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