What is Recycling Contamination and Why is it Important?

What is Recycling Contamination and Why is it Important?

If your business recycles, there’s a possibility that you’re familiar with the term “contamination”. Beyond that, however, there’s an assortment of questions that I come across frequently. What is recycling contamination? Why does it matter? How does it impact sustainability efforts? And how can I prevent recycling contamination?

As it turns out, the problem of contamination can easily be reduced. Here is all the information you need to understand recycling contamination, common contaminants, and how you can help make our planet a more recyclable place.

What is recycling contamination?

In short, recycling contamination is when incorrect items/materials are put into the system or when the right items/materials are prepared the wrong way (i.e., food residue in containers, recyclables in plastic bags, etc.).

For instance, if you are collecting a material for recycling, anything other than that specific material could be considered a contaminant. When disposed of improperly (ex: in the wrong recycling container), even recyclable materials, such as plastic and other paper products, can act as contaminants.

For example, if someone throws plastic into an OCC (cardboard) stream, this would be considered recycling contamination. Because of its incorrect disposal, there’s a strong possibility it’s rejected and sent to the landfill, resulting in a wasted recycling effort altogether. The only time it is okay to “comingle” or mix recyclables together is when you have an agreement to do so with your recycling service provider. It’s worth noting that recyclables that contain residues such as food waste, oil, and grease (unless stated otherwise by your recycling company) are considered contaminants and should not be added to your recycling stream.