A skills shortage in the waste management industry is resulting in grim implications for the environment and hefty fines for local authorities. Over half (53%) of potentially recyclable waste that cannot be correctly differentiated and separated by recycling staff ends up in the bin, according to City & Guilds.

UK residents are also slowing down the process by sometimes putting non-recyclable materials in recycling bins, with nearly nine out of 10 (88%) recycling staff citing this as a problem they have to contend with.

The research, from the UK’s leading awarding body for work-related qualifications, highlights a lack of training within the recycling industry and was carried out as part of a new drive to encourage more LAs and businesses to take up recycling qualifications.

One in ten (11%) recycling staff acknowledge that lack of training is not only damaging their career prospects, but also the success of recycling schemes. A third (32%) believe that with better training, the amount of waste recycled would improve.

Increasing the amount of material that is recycled is vital for LAs – by 2015 they will have to recycle or compost 33% of household waste. Better recycling could also result in a significant decrease of household gases, equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off the road each year.

Encouragingly, many recycling operatives are supportive of training and are keen to increase their industry knowledge so that they can do their job more effectively. Nine out of ten (90%) of those questioned feel that they need proper training to do their job more effectively.

It is not only recycling operatives that need to be educated on the types of materials that can be recycled – a third (32%) of workers feel that the public are not provided with sufficient information about recycling rules.

Problems with plastics

Worryingly, recycling staff have found that 71% of plastics are categorised incorrectly by residents, as householders are confused by the more than 20 varieties of plastics and how to sort them.

Other mistakes made by householders include not correctly separating materials, not preparing materials correctly before recycling, such as rinsing containers and removing lids, and putting the wrong types of glass and paper in recycling bins.

This lack of recycling knowledge among householders is limiting the amount of material that can be recycled. Nearly seven out of 10 (68%) recycling staff claim that up to 10% of everything they collect cannot be recycled due to mistakes made by householders.

“The recycling industry needs to ensure that its staff are engaged and motivated and have the relevant skills to do their job to the best of their ability,” says Lynne Oliver, waste recycling expert at City & Guilds.

“Our research has found that nearly one in five operatives feel they have no clear career path. This is something we want to change – we understand the importance of giving an employee direction and ambition in their career.”

  • City & Guilds has launched NVQ levels 1 and 2 in recycling operations. For details tel. 020 7294 2800

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