What does commingling mean?

“Some senior waste sector figures thought that Mr Falkenberg was a little unclear as to what he meant by commingling.” Can you blame Mr Falkenberg from the European parliament if he may have used the word in the wrong context, as reported in Lets Recycle  last month? (16.9.15) Many people are confused by the term.

So what does commingled waste mean, and what difference does it make?  The dictionary reference is  "to become blended".

In the context of waste management however commingled means the mingling or mixing of just some specific resources: dry mixed recyclable items.

The waste industry refers to a ‘mixed recyclable stream’ or ‘commingled’ waste resource, illustrated here by an image from FM Magazine, with thanks.

This differentiates that particular type of waste from ‘general waste’. General waste is where waste, whether it is recyclable or not, is collected together.

You can see that with ‘general waste’, if the correct facilities are available it is necessary to go through it and separate out the recyclable streams it contains.

Confusion among householders

The reason many people are confused about what commingling means is because the dictionary definition means ‘to blend together’, and that the system for collecting household waste varies from place to place. Some householders can put their paper, card, glass, plastic and metal in one collection for “dry mixed recyclates” while people in other areas have to keep their paper, card, glass or cans separate. Some places can put their food waste in with garden waste, others not…

It all depends on the quality, equipment and contract which each local council has for managing its household waste.

Cawleys specialist business waste collection

Here at Cawleys we are specialists in business waste, and our approach is clear.  We define waste into two resource types: commingled (dry mixed recyclables) or general waste. High volume producers of specific recyclable waste streams will often have those streams, e.g. cardboard, collected separately to achieve best value.

The more effectively you segregate your waste, the better value it is for you.  We aim to help all our customers achieve zero waste to landfill, and divert as much waste resource to second life uses as possible.

The better quality your individual waste streams are – and by ‘quality’ we mean uncontaminated with other products or materials –the more effectively it can be recycled and the better value can be achieved from your waste collection service.

The most important message about both commingled and general waste streams - is to keep food waste out of both.

The less food waste contamination the better; the cleaner the waste the better.

Avoid contamination of paper and card

A simple example is cardboard and paper.  If waste paper and cardboard is stored separately from other waste streams and kept dry it can be recycled.  If contaminated with food, and the paper is allowed to get wet, it will become unrecoverable. It will not be recyclable because as fibres within the paper or cardboard become too short, they cannot be knitted again together to make a new product.

So the most basic and useful segregation is to exclude food waste from both comingled and general waste streams.  This has two benefits:

Benefits of food waste segregation

Firstly it keeps the waste cleaner, meaning that the waste streams will be better suited for recycling and also that it is less likely to develop odours from rotting food, which can be highly unpleasant for anyone handling or processing waste.

Secondly it means the food waste can be sent to anaerobic digestion where it will be turned into liquid fertiliser and soil conditioner, and the methane emitted in the process captured and used to generate electricity for the national grid.

Other dry recyclates

There are a variety of other waste streams which benefit from being segregated and stored separately from other waste, the obvious ones being metal, glass and plastic.  Some metals such as aluminium are infinitely recyclable so it really is good for the planet and good for your business – in terms of value for money – if you collect these waste streams separately for recycling.

At Cawleys we have a sophisticated industrial plant which can separate out each of these waste streams from other waste.  This equipment is called a Material Recycling Facility known throughout the industry as a MRF pronounced ‘murf’.

Going beyond the black bag

By passing all waste through our MRF Cawleys is able to identify and segregate the key resources contained within it.  This means we can go “beyond the black blag” by effectively splitting open the bag, separating out the waste streams and recycling them where possible.

It is much, much better if all the waste within that bag is uncontaminated by food waste.  This is not just because of the issues of it spoiling waste streams, as described in our earlier example of paper, or causing smells from rotting food, both of which are bad enough, but also because it can prevent our machinery from working properly.

Technological solutions

Cawleys MRF includes a range of different technologies to identify the different waste streams.  The simplest example is the use of magnetic force. One piece of equipment will identify ferrous metals such as iron or steel, while another, called an eddy current separator, will separate out non-ferrous metals such as aluminium and copper items. Other technology includes infrared beams of light and jets of air which separate and identify different forms of plastic or paper.  If any of the items passing through the infrared lights or air jets are heavily coated in food, the product is less likely to be identified and therefore could miss being segregated and recycled correctly.

This backs up the central message - that food should always be segregated from any type of waste stream, whether it is commingled recycling or general waste.

Zero waste to landfill

There are different types of MRF available, and not all can offer the level of segregation which Cawleys’ MRF is capable of achieving.   This is another reason why people often wonder what commingling means, because they are given instructions about what and how to segregate waste streams based on the capability of the MRF to which their waste will be sent.

If you still have any questions about commingled waste or general waste; what it means for your business, and how you can make your waste collection service more cost effective, please give us a call.  We would be delighted to review your options and explain how you can improve you waste management processes to achieve zero waste to landfill.

Call our sales team on 0845 260 or email us on sales@cawleys.co.uk

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