'Co-mingled is best' report divides opinion

A report that claims co-mingled collections for household waste result in the most improved recycling rates and cost savings for councils has been disputed by the Campaign for Real Recycling.

The research, conducted by consultancy WYG on behalf of Biffa Municipal, claims that councils can boost household recycling rates and cut costs by adopting alternate weekly collections of co-mingled dry recyclables and waste from wheeled bins.

However the findings, which are the latest saga in the long-running debate of co-mingled versus source-segregated collections, have been hotly contested by the Campaign for Real Recycling (CRR).

According to the report Review of kerbside recycling collection schemes in the UK in 2009/10, most of the top 30 councils in the kerbside dry recycling league table for 2009-10, took the co-mingled AWC approach.

Of the 13 councils who improved their recycling diversion by more than 1kg per household per week, 11 moved to a wheeled bin service for dry recycling.

The most improved dry recycling council, Surrey Heath Borough Council, changed its recycling service and increased dry recycling yields by 270%, adding 130kg to reach 178kg per household per year (kg/hh/pa).

It switched from weekly sack collections of two-stream recyclables and refuse to AWCs of fully co-mingled dry recyclables and refuse from wheeled bins.

According to the study, of the top 30 councils, 23 collected 75% or more of their dry recyclables co-mingled, 23 collected recycling each fortnight, 21 collected refuse fortnightly, over half collected both refuse and recycling fortnightly, and the vast majority used wheeled bins.

WYG project director, Len Attrill, said: "The evidence is irrefutable. Factors like co-mingling, wheeled bins and fortnightly refuse collection can and do markedly lift recycling performance while often saving costs."

Attrill also pointed to government agency WRAP, whose recent change of position he believes has bolstered the case for co-mingling. "[WRAP's] previous reports on recycling collections had consistently endorsed kerbside-sort.

"However, a 2011 report on Welsh recycling admits that, all other factors being equal, average yields for co-mingled collections are expected to be nearly 12% more than with kerbside sort for weekly collections, and over 22% more than kerbside sort for fortnightly collections."

CRR coordinator Andy Moore has hit out at the study's claims. "This WYG report supported by Biffa Municipal claims to be independent, but clearly is not and risks confusing the debate," he said.

"As evidence, it cites WRAP's recent report that a co-mingled approach captures more material than source separation, but does not properly deal with the same report's finding that the difference is negligible when collection of contaminated or non-target material in co-mingled collection is taken into consideration.

"This provides the basis for WYG to claim that kerbside sort will incur more landfill costs. Alarmingly, this suggests that co-mingled collections are not accounting for the disposal of contaminated or non-target materials."

He added: "Local authorities should not have the wool pulled over their eyes about the value of quality recycling. The WYG report is based on weighbridge data that arrives at MRFs, not weighbridge data of material that arrives at reprocessors for recycling."

Maxine Perella



Waste & resource management
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