Consumer confusion and/or negligence is one of the main sources of contamination of recyclable waste. Today, recyclers in Europe spend a huge amount of energy separating waste in its different material streams. Sorting machines do a lot of the work automatically, but humans are still required to do a big part of the sorting by hand, and much of this could be avoided if the waste was properly collected separately in the first place.
A better approach to consumer communications could significantly improve separate collection efforts. Most separate collection systems today attempt to educate consumers about the categories of waste that are accepted in one coloured bin or another. In Ireland, for example, all the recyclables go in the “green bin”. But consumers often don’t know (or have the patience to read all the instructions to find out) whether an item is considered to be recyclable or not.
A much simpler approach for consumers would assign all forms of packaging that are considered recyclable with a clearly identifiable colour code. Consumers would only need to do a “colour match” in order to place the waste item in the right recycling bin.
In a world where consumers are much more aware of what is recyclable (and how) and what isn’t (simply by looking at the colour code on any product), consumers could also play a much more active role to favour the use of more recyclable options.