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Have you ever wondered why it is important that your recycling ends up in the right bin? What happens if plastic is accidentally mixed in with paper? Can a single plastic straw ruin a whole load of recycling efforts?

Despite attempts to ensure recycling schemes are effective, items ending up in the wrong bin can be a devastating blow, and it’s likely to be a lot more common than you think! Whether it’s down to oversight and mistakes, or a simple lack of convenience, plastic waste can quite easily end up in the paper recycling bin.

But have you ever thought about the consequences?

Recycling contamination occurs when waste materials are discarded into the wrong waste cycle. An example of this would be throwing plastic into a paper or card stream. When this occurs, there’s every chance that the entire load will be rejected and sent to landfill.

Overall, a wasted recycling effort!

Recent reports have suggested that contaminated plastics cost local councils as much as £49 million each year! It’s a serious challenge! Thinking of it in those terms helps you understand the importance of taking a few extra seconds to choose the right waste stream!

Now, here’s the thing! Paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle which means that your paper recycling bin should contain nothing but paper and card. In vast contrast, plastic, and all of its derivatives, are the worst recycling contaminator of all and should be sorted with attention and care.


We’ve listed a few common repercussions associated with accidentally contaminating your waste streams:

Time and energy

Despite your best efforts to separate waste, when a plastic contaminant ends up in your paper waste, the sorting aspect becomes virtually impossible. The time needed to separate contaminants from the correct waste soon makes the process a time consuming and costly exercise. Generally speaking, regardless of the viable recyclable items, this waste will be sent to landfill as the most productive time and cost saving option.

If your recyclable items are somehow salvageable, its highly likely that the saleability of the processed recycled load will also vastly decrease in market value.

From the implementation of a recycling scheme through to the sorting stage, everyone’s time and efforts are wasted.

When it comes to keeping waste separate, clear, concise and highly visible signage is just as important as education. Colour coded recycling bin labels with bold WRAP colours, icons, visuals, arrows or simple text are the most visible and recognisable ways to differentiate between waste streams. Not only does this point out that recycling is available, capturing people’s attention and creating engagement, it also highlights what can be recycled, and where.

Correct signage makes it clear where waste should be disposed, saving on unnecessary waste contamination.

The Unisort Aspire Office Recycling Bin Station makes it simple to reduce contamination by creating clearly differentiated bins for each waste type where needed. Fully customisable, from compact single bins to more comprehensive recycling solutions with multiple waste streams, your Aspire Recycling Station can be exclusively designed for any environment, and number of waste streams, customisable with bespoke colours, graphics and finishes to match any corporate colour palette


Damage to recycling machinery

Let’s start by addressing the cost of recycling.

When you discard your waste, someone, somewhere has the task of sorting the materials out so they can be turned into something new. Sorting is an expensive and labour-intensive process that requires rapid-working humans and costly machines.

Anything that causes damage to recycling machinery, unnecessarily interrupts the process causing delays and setbacks. It also costs money!

Plastic can cause numerous problems for recycling machinery.

Plastic bags cause significant challenges for sorting machinery, easily wrapping around the shafts and axles, an issue that can also cause potential injury to sorters. Plastic straws are another contender for the most damaging! Due to being so small and flexible, they’re a common cause of machine jams.

Add to this the delays caused by machine damage, and you’ve got yourself an very unproductive system.

That’s why it’s really important to discard your plastics in the correct stream, and always opt for paper straws!

Recycling stations with correct waste streams, clearly labelled and highly visible throughout your workspace is the best way to ensure your team segregate waste streams correctly at the source, saving both time and energy when it comes to sorting and recycling your waste.

Our range of Longopac bins have been designed to suit every environment, from high-risk food production areas to stylish corporate offices; all with the unique Longopac continuous liner system, saving you time, money and reducing your plastic usage!

From the Dynamic bins, designed to comply with the tightest hygiene regulations, to the Mini Washroom wall-mounted bins, which fit into even the smallest washrooms or corridors, you can rest assured that there’s a Longopac bin that fits your requirements.

To ensure maximum visibility, Longopac bins come with a huge range of signage & accessories to ensure your employees are encouraged to recycle throughout the office and the risk of minimise waste contamination. See the full signage and accessory ranges here


Environmental issues

When recyclable waste is separated, it is bought by companies who can utilise the waste and make them into new products. (If you’ve heard the buzz term ‘circular economy’ in recent times, this is what it’s referring to!)

You may or may not be aware, but a great deal of recycling is actually shipped to overseas buyers. If sorters encounter contamination caused by mixed recyclables, the entire load has to be returned, no matter how far the journey.

What a waste of resources! Particularly with the associated carbon emissions and pollution from the additional journey.

If you are concerned about the impact of your waste being shipped overseas, you can speak to your waste management company and discover their processes and operations. Using a waste management company that aligns with your business values and follow the same procedure you implement within your workplace.


Addressing the issue of recycling contamination

Even with all the potential pitfalls, recycling is still one of the best solutions to help your business become more eco-friendly. In order to ensure that you’re not wasting your recycling efforts, there are two simple steps you can take.

Communicate with your workforce

If you have an existing recycling scheme, the first port of call is to share your contamination concerns with your employees. Whether it’s the addition of informative signage or in person, it’s all about communicating your intentions with the rest of your team – that’s the key to successful teamwork!

If you haven’t yet implemented a recycling scheme, it’s time to start preparing your workforce for the imminent changes. Advise them of your desire to make a positive change and encourage them to support your plight towards greater sustainability.

If everyone’s on board from the outset, your recycling efforts will be rewarded.

Looking for support about how to start a recycling scheme at work? You can read our ‘Five Top Tips for Starting a Recycling Scheme at Work’ blog here

Make it clear!

The simplest way to prevent contamination is the use of well-designed bin stations, clear labelling and great signage. Opt for recycling solutions with distinct signage, such as the Unisort Aspire Office Recycling Bin Station, allowing users to easily differentiate between separate waste streams.

Unisort Aspire recycling bin worktop apertures

For smaller offices, one stream may be sufficient but larger offices will require suitably situated waste bins or stations.

For maximum effectiveness, and to limit the chances of lazy discarding of rubbish into the wrong bins, you’ll want to implement recycling within the high-footfall areas of your workspace including washrooms, breakout areas, kitchens and office areas.

The message is clear- recycling can be simple and effective if contamination is avoided with well-designed and thought-out solutions. The hardest decision may well be, how inventive do you want to be with your recycling bins?

Want something eye-catching? Design-led, bespoke recycling stations offer more than a mere recycling bin! With a bespoke recycling station, you’re providing the cutting-edge of options. Clear signage makes waste streams easy and seamless, while impressive customised designs means it can be created to compliment your office décor. In-built planters? Fake grass sides? Curved, double-sided stations? Go for it – we’ve got you covered!

High footfall area? Supermarkets, universities or large offices require robust recycling solutions without compromising on style. Urban indoor or outdoor bins are ideal for busy areas with varying options for colour and waste labels. They can be used individually or as part of a larger station with two or three waste types.


Need to improve your recycling scheme?

Universities, supermarkets, offices, large organisations, warehouses and manufacturing facilities; whatever your place of work, there is an innovative recycling option for you. You can choose a bin to match your décor, implement a liquid waste chute or a confidential waste chute with a lockable lid…the options are virtually limitless.


In summary

Remember, the main objective is to ensure that individual waste streams are used correctly, this means your recycling will avoid the landfill and your efforts justified. The key to obtaining this is great design, effective signage, and clear labelling, these factors will ensure that the relevant waste streams within your business are implemented and used effectively by your teams.

Using innovative and intuitive design, Unisan creates unique ‘binfastructures’ for the any environment. We help you achieve your sustainability goals and improve the recycling experience for all.

Let us help you take a step in the right direction. Please get in touch with one of our Unisan experts.


Who are Unisan?

Unisan’s key mission is to empower and support workspace recycling, in any environment. We are continually assisting organisations in achieving their sustainability goals and helping businesses demonstrate their commitment to both the environment and their workforce.

Have we convinced you to implement a recycling scheme in your workspace? Hope so! Please reach out to a member of the Unisan team to learn more and we’ll be happy to help.

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