UNITED KINGDOM August 27 2016 3:03 PM
LONDON (Scrap register): Confused householders in Plymouth put 2.78 tonnes of used sanitary towels and soiled nappies into their recycling bins in just one month of this year.
The misplaced waste meant some of the recycling carefully sorted by other families had to be incinerated instead of being reused.
In all, about one tonne in every ten of the city's green bin waste was too badly contaminated to be recycled, a council spokeswoman said.
But council bosses in Plymouth say they are bucking a national trend which is seeing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of recycling being sent to landfill.
Councils around the country said they were unable to recycle 338,000 tonnes of waste last year because it was contaminated, a rise of 84 per cent over the past four years.
The Plymouth council spokeswoman said a new facility was now taking recyclables from the domestic recycling green bin scheme.
"It uses some of the most advanced automated materials sorting equipment available and had been built to process 20,000 tonnes of recyclables a year," she said.
For the first quarter of this year 10.36% of recycled waste was rejected by the new facility – an improvement on the old operation where around 15% of material had to be rejected.
"Contamination is basically any material that is put in our recycling bins that has not been requested through our materials recycling facility scheme," the spokeswoman said.
Contamination in just the month of June included:
147.38 tonnes of refuse;
6.22 tonnes of small domestic electrical appliances (these were recovered and recycled);
1.50 tonnes of household ceramics;
10.24 tonnes of metal pots and pans and small scrap metal (also recovered and recycled);
2.78 tonnes of used sanitary towels and soiled nappies;
4.90 tonnes of wood and building materials;
1.5 tonnes of garden waste.
The spokeswoman said: "It is very rare for any container (plastic bottle, yoghurt pot or tin) to be rejected just because it has not been washed out, but if enough food waste contaminates a green bin it can downgrade the fibre products (newspapers, mixed papers and cardboard).
"None of our contaminated waste is disposed of in landfill as all our material from the materials recycling facility is recovered through the energy from waste plant which generates electricity and heat."
In the past poor quality materials were sent to reprocessors as recyclables, but new standards and stringent checks by the Environment Agency have raised the quality of material which has led to an increase in reject.
"Reprocessors will only accept the highest quality materials to obtain the best value from the materials," the council spokeswoman said.
Figures from other authorities in the region were hard to come by.
A South Hams District Council spokesperson said: "Unfortunately we do get contamination within our recycling collections, usually from plastic yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and meat trays and we urge our residents not to include these items in their recycling sacks.
"Despite this we recycle as much of the contaminated material as possible, however this does come at a cost to us, instead of the usual income gained from the sale of materials.
"Our recycling rate of 53% does not include any diverted 'recycled' material to landfill or other forms of waste disposal."
West Devon Borough Council sorts recycling directly from residents' waste at the kerbside. West Devon's recycling rate for 2015-16 was 54.5%.
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: "In the past decade, councils and residents have worked together to radically increase recycling and divert millions of tonnes of waste from landfill.
"The problem is there is widespread confusion over what can and cannot be recycled. If just one non-recyclable item is included with recyclable items, the whole bin is effectively contaminated. Councils then have to re-sort it, which is time-consuming and very expensive.
What you can and can't do
In Plymouth, householders can recycle:
Metal including aerosols, drinks cans, aluminium foil tins, pie and cake trays, ready meal trays, takeaway containers, biscuit and sweet tins, food cans/tins.
Cardboard including kitchen and toilet roll tubes, cereal boxes, egg boxes, sleeves from ready meals, toothpaste boxes.
Glass bottles and jars of any colour, including medicine bottles.
Paper – including brochures, catalogues, envelopes (including those with plastic windows), cards, junk mail, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, office paper, shredded paper, telephone directories and wrapping paper.
Plastic – including margarine tubs, cosmetic and toiletry bottles, detergent bottles, washing up liquid bottles, drinks bottles (tops removed), egg boxes, fruit punnet/containers and yoghurt pots.
Broken glass and other glass such as Pyrex, light bulbs and fluorescent tubes cannot put in the household recycling collection however light bulbs, including florescent tubes and low energy lamps can be recycled at the household waste recycling centres at Chelson Meadow and Weston Mill.