Thursday, 29 May 2014

A load of rubbish

I am involved in a litter action group and we have become very interested in recycling as a result of picking up so many cans and bottles on the way. Nine of us went to see what happens to the rubbish from our town.

 The waste management facility is very geared up to visitors with 10,000 children a year coming to learn about recycling and landfill. We started with a presentation that included a look down on the 500 acre site and all its services from the Mechanical Biological Treatment [MBT] to the Materials Recycling Facility [MRF] to the anaerobic digesters and composters and the inevitable landfill.

So much to see and learn.We were particularly interested to know what happens to our blue binned rubbish - co-mingled recyclables. Our presentation took a live camera peek at some of the 20 people dealing directly with our waste at any one time, in the MRF cabins. Workers stand at a fast moving conveyor belt removing particular materials into skips in 8 hour shifts. We were transfixed by the large plastic film removal area. Other cabins were looking for 3D, plastics etc. You can see the categories they remove in the picture below. 95% of the co mingled rubbish received is recycled.
recyclable materials reclaimed

Much of the facility is mechanised.
paper recycling
We were impressed that the MBT facility picks out some of the recyclables [our black bins] and that all is not lost if for some reason rubbish has been assigned the wrong bin. It is however much better for the environment - and cheaper - to put it in the correct bin in the first place. As a litter picker who gets some less than savoury plastic bottles and cans - the best place is the black bin rather than mix with the cleaner blue bins materials.

I think the plastic bag issue hit us the most. Not really any plan for them beyond baling them up for some, as yet, future use.
plastic bag bales

Our group picture included a Mors Bag - made from recycled fabric and given free as a replacement for plastic bags. More information from

The drive round the facility created a lot of questions about landfill, methane gas and slurry and the relative merits of burning rubbish which some countries favour. We knew from earlier training that authorities are charged as much as £103 a ton for rubbish that goes to landfill and that there are big targets for recycling.

I think it is safe to say that we went away with a much better understanding of what happens to our waste, a little depressed at the sheer volume of it all and with more questions buzzing around in our heads! 

Oh and did I mention the smell? How could I forget that!