3 Systems that Can Solve Our Plastic Waste Problem System 3: Mixed Waste Sorting

In 2020, the Circularity Gap Report revealed that our economy was 8.6 % circular (meaning only a very small amount of the products we produce get reused or recycled). In 2019, we were 9.1% circular. This means that not only are we not progressing to a more a circular economy fast enough, but we are regressing. That needs change. Good thing for us, there are solutions that already exist that could help increase that percentage. We just have to apply them.

TOMRA’s recently launched white paper, Holistic Resource Systems, details those solutions (with evidence to back them up). In this blog series, we’ve looked at two of those solutions: Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) and Separate Collections. Now it’s time for a closer look at the last system, Mixed Waste Sorting (MWS).

Teamwork can make the recycling dream work. And by team, we mean the three systems highlighted in TOMRA’s new white paper, Holistic Resource Systems (Deposit Return Schemes, or DRS, Separate Collections, and Mixed Waste Sorting, or MWS). Each system works well on their own, but together they can have the biggest impact on how much waste we recycle. Now, let’s talk MWS.

MWS is for Material Recovery Above and Beyond What the Other Systems can Deliver
PET beverage bottles. Toilet roll tubes. Cereal boxes. All these items can be recycled using DRS or Separate Collections respectively. MWS can do both. Essentially, all we (as consumers) have to do is know what can and can’t be recycled and put those items into the recycling bin. Once that’s done, our part is over. The rest is up to the sorting and recycling facilities.

The various waste materials placed in the recycling bin are then sorted, either by hand, or by machines automated to extract recyclables, ensuring that only a minimal amount of these valuable materials are sent to landfills. Inevitably, some of those materials will end up in landfills or incinerators. In some cases (at some facilities), these materials will be baled (to conserve landfill space) or shredded (for incineration).

The Challenge of MWS and How We Can Solve it
To ensure that MWS works most effectively, we must stop wishcycling. Wishcycling is when we place items into our recycling bins hoping they’ll be recycled. Think about packaging with multiple layers and materials (empty pill packs, for example). They’re often made up of multiple material types (a combination of foil and plastic), which makes them difficult to detect by machines.

If they are detected, they are also difficult to separate well enough to be allocated to the correct material stream. This is why it’s important to know what to throw in your regular bin, and what to throw in your recycling one. Of course, technologies are advancing as we speak, so what can and can’t be recycled using your curbside bin will change. Keep an eye out. For more on wishcycling, go here.

A Few Hard-and-Fast Rules for MWS Recycling
The rules of recycling vary from place to place, but some rules apply everywhere. Put all items into the bin loose (never in plastic bags), and make sure all waste is actually inside the bin (don’t leave items on the ground, beside the bin). Make sure the lid is closed. Properly.

Remember: Your mixed recycling bin is for all other waste that is not made for DRS and Separate Collections!

Three systems. Three solutions. Each system works well on its own, but together they can have the biggest impact on how much waste we recycle. This holistic approach to waste management is the only way we’re going to boost our recycling rates and combat climate change.

To learn more about how MWS fits into the holistic waste management system, download TOMRA’s Holistic Resource Systems white paper.