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Common recycling mistakes

Many of us recycle, but do we know how to do it correctly? Unfortunately, The average recycling contamination rate is 25%, or 1 in 4 items. To hit the UK target recycling rate of 65% by 2035, we must recycle properly. As London’s leading sustainable waste management company, our goal is to lead you and future generations toward a more sustainable planet. To do this, we will educate you on the importance of recycling correctly, preventing the harmful effects of recycling mistakes/contamination. 

What is recycling contamination?

Recycling contamination takes place when materials are misplaced in the wrong waste stream. A simple example of this is glass thrown into the dry mixed recycling bin. When an amount of contaminants, in a batch of recyclable material, exceeds a certain threshold, the whole batch can be incinerated, even if some material is recyclable. Contamination can also cause machinery in material recovery facilities to malfunction and can be hazardous to employees. 

Food – MRF’s are what they eat

One of the main contaminants found in Dry Mixed Recyclables is food waste. Packages that hold food often carry food residue, takeaway boxes and yoghurt pots are some of the many culprits. Packaging thrown away with food can soil recyclable material, reducing the ability for reprocessors to recycle it. 

To prevent food contamination, please rinse packaging before you place it in the recycling bin. This will improve the quality and quantity of material we can recycle. If the packaging is too soiled by residue such as oil, discard it in the general waste stream.

Coffee cups too hot to handle

2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away each year. In the UK. Coffee cups are notoriously difficult to recycle due to their composite of both paper and plastic, leading to contamination. For your generic coffee cup to be recycled, it must go through specialised mills, meaning it usually has to go through a different waste stream. 

Many coffee shop chains have waste streams to handle coffee cup recycling. To educate the public on coffee cup recycling Bywaters have installed state-of-the-art reverse vending machines and bespoke coffee cup-shaped recycling bins at some of  London’s most prestigious universities.  

Broken glass breaking recycling

93% of residents and consumers expect to be able to recycle glass, according to The recycling coalition. However, whilst recycling glass is proven to have many environmental benefits, it must be collected as a separate waste stream within commercial settings. Broken glass can be tough to process, damage machines at material recycling facilities, and be a hazard for people working there. To discard broken glass safely, set up a dedicated glass collection service, we would be happy to help. 

Explosive Batteries 

Batteries are the leading cause of fires in the waste management industry. Incorrect disposal of batteries has cost lives. A report produced by Eunomia and the Environmental Services Association (ESA) states estimated 201 waste fires caused by Li-ion batteries occur every year in the UK, costing around £158 million annually to waste operators, fire services and the environment. 

Batteries placed in the dry mixed recycling and cardboard waste stream can cause fires to spread exceptionally quickly. To prevent fires from starting Bywaters material recovery facilities contain:

  • Thermal imaging cameras.
  • Sprinkler systems.
  • Auto-detecting water cannons
  • An auto-suppression system 

Batteries require unique handling and processing to be recycled. Bywaters provide special battery recycling services to ensure that batteries are processed correctly.

Follow the labels 

With the daunting array of packing out there, it might be hard to understand how to recycle properly. Many people throw packaging in the bin, unaware of the recycling symbol on the packaging, which can lead to mistakes. Recycling symbols with keywords state a specific action needed before going into a recycling bin, to prevent contamination. If you would like to learn more about recycling symbols, read our ‘recycling and packaging symbol guide.

Black plastic the black hole  

Avoid discarding black plastic in the recycling bin. Material recovery facilities across the country cannot recycle black plastic due to it absorbing infrared beams, disrupting the recycling process. For plastic to be sorted, infra-red rays must bounce off the material to register on the MRF’s system. When you do discard black plastic, please remember to throw it in the general waste stream. Thankfully, to help deal with this common mistake, supermarkets are phasing out black plastic food packaging, hopefully this issue won’t be around for long!

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