What is Recycling Contamination?
The way I recycle, how I recycle, does it matter?


Recycling Contamination

Recycling contamination happens when items are not correctly sorted, or the items are handled the wrong way, (Eg: paper still in plastic folders and files, food waste not cleaned and removed). In short, anything other than that specific material collected would be a contaminant. When disposed of improperly (eg: in the wrong recycling container), even recyclable materials, such as plastic and other paper products, is considered a contaminant.

For example, if someone throws plastic pallet stretch film (Plastic – PE) into a bin of old corrugated cartons (Paper – OCC), this is considered contamination. Every incorrect disposal increases the percentage of contaminants, which might cause it to be rejected and sent to the landfill, resulting in a wasted recycling effort.


Why does recycling contamination matter?

– Contamination makes recycling difficult and impossible to handle
If the amount or percentage of contaminants in a load of recyclables becomes too large, the items will be sent to incinerate, as too much resources are required to further separate out the contamination.

– Contamination causes unsafe and unhygienic work environments for those sorting your stuff
Recycling workers can be exposed to hazardous waste, bacteria and diseases, and other physically damaging items.
Example: Chemical wastes, toxic wastes, and medical wastes that are not properly disposed of.

– Contamination causes a monetary devaluation in recyclables
Paper, plastic, and metal have recycling values. If a contaminant is present, the quality of the recyclable is reduced, leading to less market value. With less market value, the incentive to recycle decreases, leading to lower recycling rates, and more wastes being brought to the landfills.


Removing contaminants in the recycling process would make it more efficient, and increase the value of recyclables. The next time you recycle, remember to prevent contaminantion, every little bit counts!