'Amazon effect' of online shopping surge hits recycling rates

Generic - Binmen picture.
Council recycling feature at West Norfolk council depot, new 240 litres '

Norfolk recycling rates drop - Credit: IAN BURT

Councils in Norfolk are struggling to keep up with recycling after getting hit by a rise in waste from the  'Amazon effect'.

Recycling rates across all Norfolk councils dropped last year, as local authorities struggled to cope with the huge increase in waste from the rise in online shopping.

Web-based firms, such as Amazon, saw a hike in business in the lockdowns as people were stuck at home. Local authorities say this led to a rise in the cardboard packaging and recycling contamination which it struggled to cope with.

Norfolk Recycles - part of the Norfolk Waste Partnership, made up of the region's county, district, city and borough councils - said the amount of recycling waste has increased by 6pc in the last year, to 159,221 tonnes.

One cause of this increase has been coined the ‘Amazon effect.’

A Norfolk Recycles report said: "There has been an increase in deliveries to domestic properties due to the pandemic, causing an increase in packaging which a lot has been cardboard packaging.

"Recently recycling rates fell due to Covid-19. As residents moved to working from home, behaviours and routines changed, and more recycled materials found their way into general waste."

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The biggest reduction was King's Lynn and West Norfolk, which dropped from 42.5pc in 2019/20 to 38pc in 2020/21.

The cause of this drop is likely to be due to the council having to cancel food waste collection during the pandemic.

Great Yarmouth has the lowest rate of recycling in Norfolk, at just 29.2pc in 2020/21 down from 30pc the year before.

Moving day concept, cardboard carton boxes stack with household belongings in modern house living ro

Councils have had to deal with extra cardboard due to rising online shopping - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Broadland continues to have the highest level of recycling, 49pc in 2020/21 down from 49.6pc in 2019/20.

Breckland and North Norfolk had the smallest drop of just 0.1pc each, to 38.6 and 40.7pc respectively.

Norwich's rate dropped from 39.4pc to 38.3pc and South Norfolk from 42.5pc to 41.8pc.

The Norfolk Recycle report said rates have also fallen due to China raising the standard for quality of materials it will accept.

"For example, cardboard from an Amazon parcel that is clean and dry is of higher value, compared to a greasy pizza box which is classed as spoiled and no longer accepted.

"Norfolk’s recycling is not solely sent overseas, but China’s decision had a ripple effect across the world market.

"Now a higher amount of spoiled material is removed from recycling when we process it, so we can sell it at a better price."

West Norfolk council is warning about a tax scam. Picture: Ian Burt

King's Lynn and West Norfolk council saw the biggest drop in the pandemic - Credit: IAN BURT

Recycling rates in Norfolk have declined over the past five years, with 2016/17 seeing higher numbers across the board.

Norfolk Recycles said the numbers for 2016/17 were boosted due to extended growing seasons for garden waste.

Alongside the drop in recycling rates, local authorities also saw a rise in residual waste last year, which could be due to people disposing of Covid-related items, such as masks, lateral flow tests and gloves.

Across the UK, recycling rates fell by 1.5pc while residual waste increased by 5.1pc

Used face mask thrown away on a street

Increased residual waste could be down to extra Covid-related waste - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

North Norfolk saw an additional 62 tonnes of recycling in 2021, around six dust carts of extra waste over the year.

A spokesman said despite factors such as increased home consumption, extra waste generated from garden maintenance and two busier than normal tourist seasons recycling levels have coped without any suspension of service.

A spokeswoman for Broadland and South Norfolk councils put their high rates of recycling down to efforts to educate residents.

She said Broadland also collects food waste from around half the district, which may be more than other councils.

By October, Broadland hopes to offer food waste collection to all residents and free small electrical and textile item collection from April.

A Norwich City Council spokeswoman said the pandemic had led to a change in behaviours as people worked from home.

"This has led to a higher generation of waste which often makes its way into the incorrect bin and consequently contaminates any contents that could be successfully be recycled.

“In Norwich, we already provide an extensive range of services, and collect a wide variety of materials for recycling but we are aware that resident participation could be better, especially the use of the free weekly food waste collection service."

The city council is planning an extensive review of waste services aimed at increasing recycling and minimising the environmental impact.

West Norfolk Council, Great Yarmouth Council and Breckland were contacted but did not respond in time for going to print.

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