Perthshire officials paid £50,000 to a wealthy French waste firm after residents put too much “contaminated” rubbish in their recycling bins.
Multinational SUEZ levied the “financial penalty” on Perth and Kinross Council after the recycling waste it collected from the authority failed to meet with agreed quality standards.
Residents had put too much food waste and other non-recyclable items in their blue recycling bins.
A council spokeswoman said some residents “felt the current [recycling] system was complicated.”
A competitor recently valued Paris-headquartered waste specialist SUEZ at more than £10 billion during a takeover deal.
The Perth and Kinross “financial penalty” is equivalent to the annual council tax bill for around 38 band D properties.
Highland Perthshire councillor Mike Williamson, SNP, branded the situation “regrettable”.
He said: “This contamination has undermined the efforts of everyone and highlights that the funding could have been better spent.”
Council officials have launched a public awareness campaign – Stick to the Six.
The Perth and Kinross campaign photographs show recycling waste contaminated with food and other non-recyclable materials.
Those behind the campaign hope it will help the local authority avoid any further penalties.
Previous loads of recyclables in Perth and Kinross have all met quality standards.
How French waste firm pocketed extra £50K
The local authority’s contract with Suez stipulates contamination levels on recyclables must not exceed 20%.
The company levies a “financial penalty” when contamination levels exceed the target. The charge covers the extra work processing the dirtier waste.
The company cannot recycle the most heavily contaminated rubbish at all.
A Perth and Kinross Council spokeswoman said they had engaged with residents on social media.
“Many of those who responded felt the current system was complicated and wanted clarification of what was accepted through kerbside recycling.”
She said they developed the Stick to the Six campaign in response.
“We are looking to provide some further clarity about the main target materials accepted in the kerbside service.”
Colour coding on recycling bins varies across local authority areas in Tayside and Fife.
The key materials Perth and Kinross residents should put in their blue recycling bins are paper, cardboard, plastic containers, cans, tins and cartons.
Who are SUEZ?
Global waste rival Veolia recently bought Suez, with the company valued at more than £10 billion ($15 billion) in the deal.
The company says on its UK website it “helps local authorities… by recovering value from waste through recycling and energy generation, optimising collection and other local services”.
Richard Hinchcliffe, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK said its contract with the council includes “a standard provision” on contamination levels.
“The financial penalty only covers some of the additional costs of processing the contaminated material.”
He said it takes them longer to sort contaminated material “and if it is able to be sold, attracts a lower market price.”
They send the most “heavily contaminated” waste either to landfill or turn it, most commonly through incineration, into other forms of energy.
That incurs gate fee and landfill tax charges, he added.