JULY 2009

Curbside or co-mingled collections: quality should always come first

Sorting household recycling at the curbside is the best and cheapest option in most cases, according to UK’s Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

WRAP is publishing its view on the various ways of collecting household recycling drawing on the latest research. Local authorities are best placed to determine which collection method is most suitable. WRAP recognizes that physical conditions like high rise housing or highly congested roads may prevent sorting at curbside being the best choice in some circumstances.

However, where local authorities have the choice, and curbside collections are not an option, two stream collections which keep paper and card separate from other materials, especially glass, are preferable. This is because they produce the best material for recycling by keeping contamination levels down.

Fully co-mingled (mixed) collections have cost and quality disadvantages which should limit their use except where other options are not suitable.

WRAP is presenting its views, drawing on work it has done over the last three years, and the latest research in a leaflet ‘Choosing the Right Recycling Collection System’ at the FutuResource conference in London. This is in the light of the growing debate on the merits of various collection systems.

WRAP acknowledges that local authorities are best placed to judge the circumstances in their areas and make the choice of collection system, and WRAP’s views are intended to help them in considering options.

Among the conclusions is that sorting recycling at the curbside provides the best quality material and, when total costs are taken into account, is cheaper for council taxpayers. This flies in the face of the popular belief that co-mingled recycling collections are cheaper.

WRAP argues the evidence is clear that the quality of the materials recovered for recycling is affected by the way they are collected. Quality is important because it affects the uses the material can be put to. Quality materials can be easily reused in ways which give the most benefit to the environment. Curbside sorted materials are consistently good quality with less than one percent being rejected. Co-mingled collections are subject to higher contamination rates and have higher levels of rejection.

Reprocessors of recycled materials in the UK are currently struggling to find enough good quality material for their needs from UK sources despite the volumes being exported. As a result they are importing some material.

Although curbside sorted materials have the best quality and are likely to go to the most beneficial uses, consumers can still be confident that the great majority of co-mingled materials are recycled in some form and are not sent to landfill.