We’ve written about the high amount of waste that’s rejected from Suffolk’s household recycling bins due to contamination previously on the SunSkips blog.
As much as 17% is sent for disposal, but what you may not realise is that an astonishing amount of contaminated waste is rejected for one bizarre reason: people throwing dirty nappies in the recycling.
While they are made primarily of polyethylene, disposable nappies are not recyclable – clean or dirty – and should always be placed in rubbish bins.
Nappies are not only unsuitable for recycling, but they can also contaminate the rest of the materials in Suffolk’s household recycling bins.
In fact, it’s such a problem that the Suffolk Waste Partnership had to launch a special campaign pleading with residents not to throw their dirty nappies in the recycling.
Here’s a breakdown of everything going on with Suffolk’s effort to curtail the number of nappies going into the recycling and why it’s so important for the county.
An eye-watering 150 tonnes of used nappies find their way into Suffolk’s recycling bins every year.
This means that around 3,000 nappies need to be removed every operating day at Suffolk’s Material Recycling Facility (MRF) in Great Blakenham in an attempt to salvage the rest of the recycling (often in vain due to the fact it’s come into contact with human faeces).
On top of creating a frankly disgusting amount of work for MRF staff, it’s costing an arm and a leg to sift through the recycling and remove the offending items. Suffolk taxpayers pay more than £1,000,000 every year to clear up spoiled recycling, and nappies are a significant part of this problem.
So you can see why investing in a dedicated advertising campaign to prevent disposable nappies from going into the recycling in the first place makes sense.
Teaming up with Keep Britain Tidy and other local authorities across England, Suffolk Waste Partnership devised the Ted Says campaign to try to persuade locals to put disposable nappies in the general waste bin where they belong.
The bright green creatives – appearing across social media and in prominent locations in the county including billboards and collection vehicles – feature a teddy bear asking parents and carers not to put nappies in the recycling.
The ads also point out that just one dirty nappy in the recycling can contaminate an entire truckload of recycling, a frustrating reality for the residents that diligently rinse out and separate their recycling.
To help residents understand what can and can’t be recycled, Suffolk Waste Partnership sent out leaflets to every household in the county last year (also available for download).
While recycling can cause some confusion at times, the idea that so many people believe that soiled nappies are suitable for recycling is hard to digest.
A Keep Britain Tidy survey revealed that nationwide, 7% of parents and carers incorrectly put disposable nappies in the recycling. That’s one million people.
The survey also revealed the reason this is happening on such a wide scale. The environmental charity worked with nine authorities across England and found that a lot of people are genuinely unaware that disposable nappies don’t go in the recycling.
Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy, is keen for manufacturers to make it less confusing and display a clear non-recyclable symbol of nappy packaging.
She said, “Our campaign features a new symbol that we would like to see carried on every pack of nappies so that there is clear and consistent advice to the public, many of whom are trying to do the right thing with what they perceive, incorrectly and tragically, to be a recyclable product.”
But more worryingly, some residents are simply putting nappies in the recycling because they’ve run out of space in the general waste bin.
Councillor James Mallinder, Chair of the Suffolk Waste Partnership, is determined to reduce the amount of nappies MRF staff have to wade through.
He said, “Putting the wrong things in your recycling bin can spoil the entire contents and removing used nappies is a particularly nasty job.”
For those concerned with the environmental impact of the huge amount of nappy waste even a single child generates, there is an alternative to disposable nappies.
Cloth nappies are a reusable option that simply go in the washing machine after they’re emptied out. They’re responsible for a significantly lower amount of waste compared with disposable nappies.
The average baby goes through 2000+ disposable nappies a year, whereas 25 cloth nappies would do the trick for the same period. This video from Suffolk Recycling demonstrates the difference in volume between a year’s worth of disposables (in the black bags) versus reusable ones (in front).
A lot of people are put off the idea of cloth nappies because of having to clean out the contents, but it’s not half as bad as you might imagine.
Cloth nappies are designed to be used with liners that collect the bulk of the mess. These can either be emptied into the toilet or put directly into a nappy bag and into the rubbish bin as you would a normal disposable nappy.
The saving you’ll make over the long run is an extra incentive, although cloth nappies are on the pricier side as an initial investment (depending on which brand you go with).
However, Suffolk Cloth Nappies allows residents to try out cloth nappies for free with a nappy kit that you can borrow for a month.
If you’re not ready to make the jump to cloth nappies with both feet, you could try starting with them in the evening only and seeing how you get on.
Councillor Mallinder added that properly disposing of nappies in the rubbish bin or switching to cloth nappies will go a long way to cutting the amount of rejected recycling in Suffolk.
“These small but important changes can really help our local environment,” he said.
SunSkips is a private company and isn’t affiliated with Suffolk Recycling’s Ted Says campaign. However, we support any initiative to prevent recycling contamination and use a meticulous screening line to separate recyclable materials at our sites across Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.