LGA: Over half a million tonnes of recycling is rejected at point of sorting

Non-recyclable materials being placed in the recycling bin contributed to more than half a million tonnes of household recycling being rejected at the point of sorting in 2019/20, the Local Government Association reveals today


Photo of green and clear empty plastic bottles

The LGA said councils and households are working together to increase recycling rates, with plastic packaging collected by councils doubling over the past decade. However, packaging manufacturers are still not doing enough to stop producing non-recyclable packaging or contributing to the ever-growing costs of disposal.

Latest figures show 525,000 tonnes of household recycling collected was rejected at the point of sorting in 2019/20.

Each tonne of waste collected from a household recycling bin that can’t be recycled attracts an extra cost of around £93 to dispose of through an energy from waste facility. This equates to over £48 million per year in additional costs.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is calling for manufacturers of non-recyclable packaging to front the costs associated with this sorting and disposal.

Cllr David Renard, Environment spokesperson for the LGA, said:

“Households have made a real shift over the past decade to ensure they are recycling as much as possible and councils work hard to share information on what can and can’t be recycled.

“However, the manufacturers of plastic packaging products are still continuing to create and sell packaging that cannot be recycled and will be put in the recycling bin by people in good faith. The burden then falls on councils to not only collect it and dispose of it, but to pay the extra cost of disposing of it.

“At a time when councils are working towards achieving net zero, they are doing so with one hand tied behind their back courtesy of manufacturers who are littering our communities with plastic they know cannot be disposed of sustainably.

“We will be working with government and the waste industry as part of the Environment Bill to ensure this issue is addressed and to understand the impact of the ban on exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. While exporting our waste was never a suitable solution, the sudden additional responsibility and cost for councils is clearly a concern.”

Case studies

  • Oxford City Council’s latest figures show that the annual weight of recycling collected has increased over the last three years and is now at an all-time high, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The recycling rate for 2020/21 is 53.02 per cent, but 6.5 per cent of recycled material collected since April 2020 was rejected due to contamination. The council is calling on residents to check their website to ensure non-recyclable materials aren’t placed in the recycling bin.
  • City of  Bradford Metropolitan District Council has reported a 15 per cent rise in recycling contamination in some areas during the pandemic. A report shows that the additional costs for collecting and processing this waste in comparison to pre-covid levels is around £208,000 per month. This sharp rise in contamination has resulted in an extra £800k forecasted cost.
  • Broxbourne Council is reminding residents of plastic packaging that cannot be recycled in a bid to curb a significant increase in contaminated recycling material in both kerbside recycling boxes and bins at recycling points.
  • Three Rivers District Council is the highest performing local authority in England when it comes to household recycling. It achieved a 64.1 per cent rate for the amount of waste recycled, composted or reused in 2019/20.

Notes to editors

  1. 525,000 tonnes of household recycling collected was rejected at the point of sorting in 2019/20 according to Local Authority Collected Waste Management stats.
  2. WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact Annual Report 2019/20 shows that some progress is being made against four targets set, but significant challenges still remain. It shows that 36 per cent of plastic packaging placed on the market at the time was non-recyclable. Despite a commitment from the members of the UK Plastics Pact to eliminate the use of plastic cutlery, straws and polystyrene, 20 per cent of the remaining plastic packaging on the market is not recyclable.
  3. The UK Plastics Pact is a collaboration, bringing together businesses from across the plastics value chain to generate a fundamental change in the way plastics are designed, used, re-used, disposed of and reprocessed.
  4. The cost per tonne of sorting collected recycling through a Material Recovery Facility is around £45, and the cost of disposing of a tonne of waste in an energy from waste plant is around £93 as per WRAP’s latest gate fee report. The exact amount will vary slightly depending on the individual contracts.

In 2019/20, councils in England achieved their highest combined recycling rate of 45.5 per cent by weight, despite containers such as glass and plastic bottles, jars, plastic tubs and trays getting lighter, and newspapers and magazines reducing in favour of digital media.