WRAP has defended a study published last month which suggested that lower recycling rates are linked with higher residual bin capacity.
The report, which analysed UK recycling performance and waste arising for 2012/14, assessed data for 239 councils encompassing collection authorities and unitary authorities in England and the UK

It found a statistical association between increasing weekly residual waste bin capacity from a mean of 120 litres among authorities to 240 litres with a consequential 7.9% drop in recycling rate. This, WRAP said, would be due to decreases in dry recycling yields and increases in residual waste yields – although there was little impact on waste arising levels.
However, Paul Levett, Waste Transition Ltd director, has queried whether householders end up merely placing some residual waste in the recycling bin if their residual bin was reduced in size, and so jeopardising the quality of the recyclables.
He argued that local authorities’ lid-down policy on waste – when councils do not collect bins that are not fully closed – meant many residents might simply choose to add black bag waste to larger capacity mixed recycling containers.
He told letsrecycle.com: “I think WRAP does a very good job but it needs to take some councils that are introducing slim residual waste bins and monitor the composition of the recycling bin before and 12 months after to understand what they are actually getting.”
“Some of what’s going into the recycling bins when the residual bin’s full won’t be recyclable. We are diverting the problem and reducing the quality. A council could say it has a 100% recycling rate if it has no residual bin.”
Responding to the claims, a spokesman for WRAP said that a council’s recycling rate already takes contamination into account – which means greater amount of residual waste in recycling bins would be detected.
WRAP said: “The recycling rate is calculated by Defra using WasteDataFlow data. The recycling rate takes into account contamination rejected at sorting facilities, transfer stations and at the gate of reprocessors. Therefore, if greater amounts of residual waste was being transferred into the recycling bins due to the smaller available residual capacity, this would be reflected in the recycling rate calculated.”
Asked whether greater composition analysis of recycling in areas where smaller residual waste bins have been rolled out, WRAP added that such data is ‘not available’ for all authorities.
WRAP did reveal that the residual bin was not examined in the study. The spokesman revealed: “The analysis did not look at the composition of the residual bin. Composition data is not available for all authorities in the analysis so we would not be able to ascertain if there was a link between residual capacity and composition.”
Also commenting, Andrew Bird of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) conceded that smaller bins “can increase levels of contamination” but argued there was enough evidence showing reducing size forces more recyclable material out.
Torfaen council is to roll out smaller residual waste bins from next month
Torfaen council is to roll out smaller residual waste bins from next month
He added: “When we look at the total capacity in councils that have rolled this out, it’s still in excess of the single bin capacity residents had ten to 15 years ago. So after years of increase councils are now coming back to that model.”
The research comes as Torfaen county borough council in Wales prepares to reduce its residual waste containers from 240 litres to 140l from next month. The council operates a no side waste policy, meaning residents who leave extra black bags outside the new bins could face penalties.