The call to action comes after a Freedom of Information request for the Daily Mail revealed that the contents of up to one in five recycling bins were turned away by some councils last year because they were contaminated with the wrong items.

Last year, 338,000 tonnes of this ‘contaminated’ recycling was buried or incinerated, up 84% from 2012.

Leading waste management experts WRAP have called for waste companies to improve communicative advice that can be given to the public to ensure they recycle correctly.

A WRAP spokesperson said: “Where recyclable materials are collected mixed together, some materials may be included which can’t be recycled. In such instances, these materials need to be separated and sent for disposal. If the sorting process is not fully effective, the resulting contamination will reduce the value of the sorted materials. Good quality clean material attracts better prices.

“Instances of contamination can be reduced if local authorities communicate clearly with residents about what they can and cannot place in their recycling containers, and by following up cases where there is misunderstanding. Most people want to do the right thing and will respond positively to clear advice and support from their councils. Where recycling systems change, new systems will need careful explanation and it may take some time before everyone is clear about them.

“Mixed recyclable materials delivered to materials recovery facilities (MRFs) for sorting should be tested to identify problems and waste companies should work with local authorities to address contamination issues which are identified.”

ESA executive director, Jacob Hayler sought to keep the statistics in perspective, pointing out that contaminated recycling made up a relatively small proportion of the total.

He said: “Overall, the amount of household waste recycled rose from 9.1 million tonnes in 2010 to 10.0 million tonnes in 2014, while over the same period the amount landfilled or incinerated fell from 13.0 million tonnes to 12.3 million tonnes.

“Local authorities and waste companies are working with householders to address the [contamination] issue, but it is important to keep in context that 338,000 tonnes represents less than 3.5% of the amount of household waste collected for recycling.”

Enabling environment

In order to provide homeowners with a better understanding of what can and cannot be recycled WRAP has launched a recycling locator which tells homeowners what they can recycle at home and what can be passed on to authorities based on a postcode.

A survey from Direct365 has shown that 30% of people in the UK believe that more should be done to educate school children about recycling as a means to tackle the problem.

England’s recycling growth rates have slowed significantly over the past three years. Figures from Defra show a slight increase from 44.2% in 2013 to 44.8% in 2014 – but this remains well below the UK’s 50% target.

Matt Mace

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