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Reducing contamination

Client: Oxford City Council

Project: Reduction in contamination

Department: Recycling Team

Date of completion: Summer 2019


High contamination rates (wrong items in the recycling bins) have always been a concern for many local authorities, Oxford is no exception. During the summer of 2019, contamination rates increased exponentially. We saw items including black bags, nappies, food and textiles presented for mixed recycling. Not only did this degrade the recyclable materials, as a result, many loads were rejected from the recycling plant, meaning they had to be disposed by other means that are more costly and wastes the valuable materials.


ODS collects and disposes of waste on behalf of Oxford City Council.


Often the contaminating items are found towards the bottom or hidden which prevents identifying the issue at a glance. For health and safety reasons, crews aren’t allowed to sort through bins to see which are contaminated, nor would they have the time to. Oxford has a high churn of new residents often confused about what is recyclable which will add to the problem.


We were able to reduce our contamination rates significantly by educating residents over a number of communication platforms, including social media, website, through local newspapers, digital newsletters and paid for on/offline adverts. Collection crews also took a more vigilant approach and stickered identifiable contaminated bins. Next, recycling officers provided follow up visits to “repeat offenders”.


Given the turnover of population within Oxford, there is a constant need to engage and reinforce messaging. The tone of communication with residents is key as is a joined up approach with Councillors.  Results have improved especially around textiles.