This story was told in a story circle at the Learning History workshop in February 2008.
This story describes how the problem of contamination in recycling waste in East London was addressed by paying close attention to different ways of working with residents and trying to understand what approaches work best. This attention to quality led to much reduced figures of contamination in the waste stream.
Quality Counts – Taking contamination out of East London
A story told in the “Down with Carbon” story circle
My story is going to be another one from the recycling sector, but relating that to carbon. I was recently in charge of a monitoring and campaign exercise in 2 East London Boroughs to try and reduce contamination. They have got a 25-year purifying contract with Shanks. And they have got a material recovery facility which recovers waste material after disposal and uses it to power concrete furnaces, all sorts of useful project like that. The problem was that the contamination was through the roof and that was causing major issues. They were sorting processes out at the MRF* (Materials Recycling Facility) of them and that something has to be done about it.
We were enlisted by them to come aboard and work with the Boroughs to devise a scheme to monitor whereby we sent out teams with collection crews. They would monitor any household causing contamination and then deliver targetted information to those households. In addition, we also worked with collection crews themselves who could be a voice for, a sort of advocate for recycling and for messaging to the public.
And we retrained them across contamination areas on how to improve their recycling service; how to improve their customer service especially and to view things from the resident’s side as to why they are possibly making mistakes with recycling. From following on from that campaign, we did it in two separate areas, contaminations was reduced from something like 15% of households down to about 1% and 4% of households. It is really sort of measurable dramatic effects in the area.
We are currently looking into how we could extend that throughout the rest of the Borough. We initially targetted contamination hot spots and we now want to take that forward. Maybe we could look at different seasonal impacts because grass or garden waste was something that we did not included as it was over winter.
And how we can improve on the methodology. The approach we took in each Borough was quite different. One was quite simplistic – it didn’t get such good results.
The other one was much more sort of staggered approach like a yellow-card, red-card approach. The first one would be a leaflet drop; the second a visit from a recycling person and the third would be a visit from the enforcement officer of that Local Authority. So, it was a very strong stance approach but one that was gradually building up allowing that resident the benefit of the doubt at the start. And it has worked very well, Quality is something that is coming through more and more in the recycling agenda: to improve the recycling rates and increase markets in the future and obviously therefore decrease carbon dioxide emissions.
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