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Contamination in source-separated municipal and business recyclate report

What are the typical contamination levels in recycling which has been separated at the point of collection? 

The study examined contamination levels in five key recyclable materials - plastic, glass, metals, paper and card – when separated at the point of collection. Poor quality recyclate is regarded as a key issue by the waste management and reprocessing industries.

While the work was required for the Scottish Government to inform policy development and implementation, it was recognised that sampling in Scotland alone would not yield enough data due to the relatively small number of source-separated collections there. The sampling and analysis work programme was therefore carried out UK-wide and the research designed to produce results at a UK level.


Although contamination is generally low in source-separated recyclate streams, improvements can still be made:

  • Metal streams are the most heavily contaminated, so work could be done with crews to ensure contamination is removed more effectively.
  • Plastics appear to be a significant contaminant in many recyclate streams. People find it difficult to determine which plastics are recyclable due to the range of plastic polymers and differences between schemes. Further efforts should be made to educate waste producers – both householders and businesses – as to what is accepted in each stream.

The report was published in July 2014.

Download the full report

You can read the full report by downloading it in the right hand column. 

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