New report examines contamination levels in separately collected recyclate

Zero Waste Scotland has today (25 March) published the findings of a study looking at typical contamination levels in recycling which has been separated at the point of collection.

25 Mar 14

The study, which was supported by the Scottish Government, examined contamination levels in five key recyclable materials - plastic, glass, metals, paper and card – when separated at the point of collection, and found that the contamination levels in those waste streams was generally low.  The metal waste stream was found to be the most heavily contaminated, with plastics being the most commonly found contaminant across all streams.

This report follows the implementation of the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations at the beginning of the year, which require key materials to be presented separately for collection unless it can be demonstrated that the quantity and quality of material captured through co-mingling is not significantly lower than that delivered through separate collection systems.

The study supports the Scottish Government’s ambitions to see high quality recycling systems which maximise the value of the materials which flow through the Scottish economy, and provides important evidence on the minimum levels of contamination that will need to be achieved in order to comply with Scottish legislation.  

Iain Gulland, Director, Zero Waste Scotland said:

“Poor quality of material has long been regarded as a key issue for the resource industry, with contamination playing a major part in this.  To date we haven’t had any robust data on this, so it’s great to be able to address this gap. 

“Harnessing the maximum value from materials we collect for recycling is vital to achieving our zero waste goals and in helping us to move towards realising the environmental and economic benefits of becoming a more circular economy.”

Gary Walker, Principal Policy Officer, SEPA said:

“We welcome the results of this study into material quality in separate collection systems.  Waste producers and waste service providers have a legal duty to ensure that the quality of material collected in co-mingled collection systems is not significantly less than that which can be achieved in separate collection systems. 

“The study provides important evidence on contamination levels and we will be considering the report findings in order to target our activities and priorities on material quality and ensure that contamination issues are addressed under the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations.”

The full report, ‘Contamination in source separated municipal and business recyclate in the UK 2013’ can be found at

Notes For Editors

  • For the purpose of this study, contamination was defined as any non-target or non-recyclable material present in the waste stream.  Contamination was defined with specific reference to the recycling scheme in place within a given local authority or business.
  • Business recyclate is also included within the report but the small sample size means that the data is not robust.
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