Contamination of dry mixed recycling (DMR) is a serious and expensive issue that is best avoided as it costs councils, and the taxpayer, a lot of money to put right. The term ‘contamination’ refers to the presence of the wrong items in recycling bins. It can result in a whole truckload of recycling being rejected and disposed of as rubbish instead, which is more costly than recycling, and more damaging to the environment.
That’s why in 2022, the Shared Monitoring Resource Team (SMRT) project was formed. Its aim was to run a partnership trial that would explore ways of reducing contamination, improving the quality of recycling as a result. From September to December, the project team carried out inspections of kerbside and communal recycling bins in Elmbridge, Guildford, Mole Valley, Runnymede, Spelthorne, Surrey Heath and Woking.
During that period 1,474 kerbside recycling bins were tagged, asking residents to remove contaminating items that can’t be recycled. Monitoring officers compiled a report of the contaminating items by area. Tagging contaminated recycling bins is a well-established system used by most districts and borough councils that has proven to be an effective method for bringing about a reduction in repeat contaminations.
At blocks of flats with communal recycling bins, over 350 bin stores were monitored for issues that could be contributing to contamination, and a report was compiled detailing the multiple factors involved – the condition of the site, overflowing rubbish bins, a lack of small gap lids to prevent incorrect items being placed in the recycling bins, and incorrectly configured food waste bins.
The trial has provided useful insights that could be used for future partnership projects and initiatives. Data from the findings is being used to inform improvement work that is being taken forward by the participating councils, such as further training for collection crews, improvements to the reporting of contamination, and the introduction of tags for crews to start using at communal bin stores.
Findings from the SMRT project will also be used to inform future contamination initiatives within the SEP programme of work.