What happens to our recycling?
The Pink Recycling Sack Journey
The sacks are delivered to the local waste transfer station by Veolia.
They are stored together and loaded, ready to be taken to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF). You can follow their recycling journey and take a tour of the Southwark Materials Recovery Facility by watching this video from Veolia.
Here the materials are sorted into their different streams e.g.,
- plastic bottles
- household plastic packaging
- food and drink cans
- glass bottles/jars
Once delivered to the MRF the pink sacks are mechanically split and the materials travel along a system of conveyor belts. Pre-sorting takes place to remove any contaminated items such as:
Equipment, such as:
- eddy currents
- optical sorters
Are used to help sort the materials into their different streams.
Final visual checks then take place to take out any items that may have got through but cannot be recycled.
Once separated, each type of material is taken to different re-processors where they are used to make new products.
The Paper and Card Journey
Once the paper and card has been emptied from the blue box, it is taken to the Waste Transfer Station, where it is stored.
The paper and card then makes its way to the reprocessing plant in Kent, where it is recycled to make new paper and card and packaging products, such as cereal boxes.
Three top tips:
- remove any plastic wrapping and free gifts from newspapers, magazines and junk mail
- paper is one of the most important recyclable materials, but only when it is clean
- if you scrunch up paper and it doesn't spring back, then it can be recycled
The Clear Textile Recycling Sack Journey
The sacks are also taken to the waste transfer station where they are sorted to take out any difficult items, such as grubby or wet textiles.
The material is then taken to the reprocessor where further manual sorting is done. During this time, materials are sorted depending on whether they can be:
- contaminated items which may have passed through the first checks
Most of the textiles are reused. This means they are not shredded, but sold on as wearable items.
The final small amount of textiles are shredded to be used as 'flocking' (stuffing for cushions, etc.). These items are only shredded because they cannot be used for anything else.
The Food Waste Journey
Once the food waste is collected from the blue food waste bins, it is sent to a reprocessor.
In Vessel Composting (IVC) and Anaerobic Digestion (AD) are two technologies that can be used for reprocessing food waste into a useful end-product.
As these processes are held in a controlled nature, all types of food waste can be safely reprocessed e.g.
- baked goods
- meat products
To create a product that can be used as an agricultural bio fertiliser and soil improver. AD also makes biogas, which can be used to create renewable energy.
In Vessel Composting
IVC involves composting the food waste in a controlled environment using tunnels.
The food waste is shredded and loaded into the first vessel/tunnel. Micro-organisms in the waste start breaking down the material. The temperature of the waste increases to between 60 degrees celcius and 70 degrees celcius. This makes sure that any pathogens are killed.
After 7 to 21 days, the material is moved to the second vessel, where the composting process continues.
The use of a two-stage process helps to make sure that all the materials reach the needed temperatures. The control of oxygen, moisture and temperature levels during all stages means that material is fully sterile.
Once this has been completed, the compost is left to mature in 'heaps' called windrows - either in the open air or an enclosed area. It is then 'screened' into different grades depending on what it will be used for.
AD is the break down by micro-organisms, of biodegradable materials without any oxygen.
Food waste is mixed with other biodegradable materials to make sure that the best mix is reached. The material is checked for contaminants and then fed into a digester to create digestate and biogas.
The digestate can be stored and separated into solid (for further processing and application to land) or liquid (which can be used on land as a bio fertiliser) fractions.
The biogas - a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide - is stored either to be refined further or used directly for a number of applications.
The Garden Waste Journey
Garden waste collected at the kerbside and at the HWRCs is taken to an open windrow composting facility in Pitsea. Here it is turned into high quality compost.
Windrow composting processes garden waste in the presence of oxygen. This is done either in the open air or in large covered areas, where the material can break down.
When the garden waste arrives at the facility it is shredded to reduce the volume and speed up the composting process.
The shredded garden waste is then piled into rows (windrows.) These windrows are turned regularly to aerate them and evenly spread the heat and moisture, which is naturally created as part of the composting process.
After exactly 12 weeks, once the compost has matured, it is passed through a screen to separate smaller material from 'oversized' material.
The small faction goes through another 4 week maturing process and the oversized fraction is put back through the process to break it down more.
At the end of the process is an organic soil conditioner, which meets all required standards to be sold as a branded Veolia product called Pro Grow.
If you are registered for the garden waste collection, you can help by making sure that non-compostable items, such as plant pots and plastic bags, are not put in with your garden waste.