27 FEBRUARY 2020 by James Langley

Commingled recycling collections can lead to twice as much contamination when compared with separate streams, according to paper recycling specialists DS Smith.

The company said today (27 February) that in the last year it measured enough plastic contamination in paper and cardboard materials at its Kemsley Paper Mill to fill up to 4.8 million black bin bags.

DS Smith’s Kemsley Paper Mill is in Kent

The London-based corrugated-packaging company has now called on local authorities to adopt collections where materials are separated.

Jochen Behr, head of recycling for DS Smith, said: “It is important that the right materials end up at the right recycling facility.

“We have argued for many years on the importance of quality material for recycling, and the importance of separate collections to ensure that paper and cardboard can be easily recycled, and therefore underpinning their qualities as important contributors to the circular economy.”

The company says its research showed paper and card were more likely to be contaminated by plastics when it was collected as mixed recycling.

To ensure as much paper is recovered as possible, DS Smith says its own collection infrastructure implements an eight-step process to ensure plastic-riddled bales are separated and sorted for further processing before they arrive at the Kemsley Paper Mill in Kent.


As end markets tighten and material quality becomes more important, contamination is becoming an ever more significant issue.

Spot checks by Redditch borough council in Worcestershire found a “shockingly high” rate of 23% contamination in the material it collected from kerbside recycling bins (see letsrecycle.com story).

And, after having 156 tonnes of paper and card rejected for recycling because it was mixed up with other waste including nappies and food waste, Pendle borough council is placing stickers on receptacles if they contain the wrong items (see letsrecycle.com story). Residents are asked to remove the wrong items from the blue bins before the waste is collected.

In the past year DS Smith measured enough plastic contamination in paper and cardboard materials to fill 4.8 million black bin bags (Picture:Shutterstock)

In April 2019 DS Smith released a report titled Tipping Point which suggested the UK would not reach its target 65% recycling rate until 2048.

The report calls for policy makers to introduce mandatory separate collections of card and paper to improve the quality of material collected for recycling.


DS Smith says it has introduced quality measurement tools including Near Infrared technology to assess the quality of material arriving from household and commercial collections.

Mr Behr said: “Introducing state-of-the-art monitoring equipment at our mill has allowed us to be forensic about the quality of material that we process in the UK.”