Last week, thousands of Dublin householders woke up to find a label swinging off their green bins from the Panda recycling company confirming that 40% of waste collected for recycling is contaminated, and warning that they are taking steps to tackle this problem.

Reporting for the Today programme, Evelyn O’Rourke took a trip out to one of Panda’s plants in Ballymount, in Dublin, where up to sixty green bin trucks a day empty and sort the contents of green bins from Dublin households.

There, she met Panda’s Director of Recycling, Des Crinion, who took her through some of the challenges his team faces in dealing with contaminated rubbish.

"We can’t get the contamination out to get good quality materials," Crinion said.

" I’d love to be able to say that the problem is as small as the dirty yoghurt pot. But what we are finding, increasingly, is material that absolutely should not be in the bin, such as dirty used nappies. Nappies are our number one offender at the moment."

Panda’s Ballymount plant has a staff of 100, working over two shifts, twenty-four hours a day. The plant is huge and includes 1.2 km of conveyor belts used to sort all of the waste.

It looks, according to Evelyn: "...a bit like a Willy Wonka factory with cardboard and rubbish instead of chocolate."

Evelyn O'Rourke at the Panda's Ballymount Plant, Dublin

The need to recycle, in order to minimise waste which goes to landfill or incineration, cannot be overstated. People who dispose of non-recyclable material into their green bins are causing untold problems to the recycling process.

And when we say non-recyclable material, the types of waste that can sometimes come down those conveyor belts are quite astonishing.

The list is not for the fainthearted, so look away now, if you’re a little queasy!

  • Dirty nappies (number one offender).
  • Mouldy food waste
  • Trousers
  • Runners
  • Shoes
  • Pet poo
  • Even a dead dog (very sad)

What materials can be recycled?

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Newspapers
  • Aluminium drink cans
  • Plastic bottles
  • Plastic containers 
  • Cereal packs  
  • Yoghurt cartons (so long as cleaned and dried)

If in doubt, Crinion has a rule of thumb.

"Would you be happy if I emptied your green bin out on your kitchen floor?"

"If the answer is yes, then I think you are doing a good job. If the answer is no, you are doing something wrong."

So, what’s not allowed?

  • Glass. Even though recyclable, not for your green bin!
  • Food waste. Get a composter, folks, or use a brown bin.
  • Nappies. Do we even need to go there?
  • Styrofoam. An ecological nightmare. Along with Aeroboard and other synthetic materials.

There are other do's and don’ts, which you can find on the website of all waste providers.

Panda is now attaching information labels to wheelie bins, to cut down on contamination. Do take the time to educate yourselves. Surely we are all in this together?

In the meantime, Panda will be taking steps to tackle the problem, including putting cameras inside bin lorries, to record what is coming out of individual green bins. And for people who fall foul of the rules, there will be fines coming down the line. You have been warned!

If you want even more information on proper use of green bins, check out citizensinformation.ie

To listen to the Evelyn’s full report, click here.