Combatting contamination – what you need to know

Toni Robinson, Compliance Manager, explains why contaminated waste can have costly implications and why it presents a real challenge:

Dealing with contaminated waste is a real challenge.

If we don’t have a full list of the materials detailed on a waste transfer note, then it can have potentially serious consequences and prove an expensive mistake for our customers.

A stray lithium battery in a consignment of office waste; a tub of unidentified white powder in the bottom of a skip; a container of concentrated cleaner/descaler, or a can of oil secreted at the bottom of a wheelie bin; an old item of electrical equipment discarded in general waste.
These are all potentially hazardous items.


  • If lithium batteries are damaged and come into contact with moisture, they can catch fire
  • If an unlabelled white powder comes into contact with an operative’s skin or is spilled at any stage, it can lead to a widespread chemical alert involving the police and other appropriate authorities
  • If a concentrated cleaning chemical, such as an acid, splashes an operative, it could have life-changing consequences
  • If a can of oil splits in one of our vehicles, it compromises the full load of material – turning general or recycling waste into hazardous waste. It could also leak out of the vehicle, causing pollution
  • If electrical items are thrown away in general waste, they can cause sparks during processing and become a fire hazard. Many electrical items are also classified as hazardous wastes

All of the above are real incidences that have occurred in the recent past.

Avoiding extra costs

Once loaded into one of our vehicles it’s likely that contaminated material will only be detected when the load is tipped at one of our waste recovery facilities. Due to cross contamination, it’s quite likely that the waste producer will incur extra charges, especially if the waste has to be reloaded and diverted to an appropriate form of waste treatment.

If, for example, a whole waste wheeler has been contaminated, that could mean receiving a bill of around £5,000 for the treatment by high temperature incineration of eight tonnes of waste, rather than paying an average of £50 for one contaminated bin.

Avoiding prosecution

There is a risk of prosecution if it can be shown that a duty of care was lacking by the waste producer. This could come from either, or both, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

The solution

We know it’s easy to make mistakes – but these examples show how costly they can be.

Supporting and educating our customers is important, which is why our staff are on hand to provide expert advice. So, if you are unsure where your waste belongs, talk to our team who can advise on how to complete your waste transfer notes accurately and responsibly. Once agreed, inform your staff about which wastes can go into which containers, as well as where special measures need to be taken.

By working together, we can combat contamination.

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