(Copied from CEBH’s article in the March/April 2022 issue of The Cottage, with some Bovey Larder additions)
Many of us have questions about waste recycling, locally and nationally. How does everything I put in my household recycling, or into recycling skips, or take to the recycling centre, actually get recycled?
Tracey Fey, acting Recycling Officer from Teignbridge District Council gave a talk on this very subject recently. You might expect that this was a trifle dull, but it was really fascinating and enlightening. We were left with a sense of pride in what is achieved in Teignbridge. We also learnt a great deal about the processes involved. So here is a summary of her talk. Did you know that approximately £1.05 per week of each household’s council tax goes to refuse and recycling collection? The service is made sustainable by topping this up from sales of the recycled materials.
- Over 53,000 tons of waste is collected from 63,500 households per year in Teignbridge.
- 56% of that waste is recycled or composted (2nd highest authority in Devon and ranked 33rd in the country out of 341 local authorities*).
- There are 39 vehicles in total that collect our waste.
- Recycling collection vehicles have separate compartments – the crews have to sort glass and card from our boxes at the roadside.
- Plastic and cans go in the same compartment and are squashed on board. They are easy to separate later.
- Recycling is delivered to the bulking station at Brunel Road in Newton Abbot.
- Our plastic and cans, still mixed together, then have to be separated. Steel cans are taken out with a large magnet and an eddy current removes aluminium cans. This leaves plastic to roll off the end of the conveyor.
- Collected materials are sold to processor companies. Teignbridge District Council conducts due diligence on these companies to confirm their environmental credentials.
Our paper is taken to Kings Lynn for processing. Last year this saved the equivalent 22,680 trees. Only white paper, or paper that tears white, can be used – that can include magazines, so it’s worth tearing a page to check. It is then pulped, washed and the print removed. The complex process results in huge rolls of paper which are sold for use in the UK and Europe.
Our card is bailed in Newton and then goes to Kent where it is recycled into new card products. This is all done on site in a combined paper mill and packaging plant, with brand new cardboard boxes coming out at the end. The whole process can only take 14 days and is an excellent example of closed-loop recycling.
Our mixed glass bottles and jars go to West Yorkshire. Any colour of glass is accepted, but plate glass, broken glass and pyrex should be taken to the recycling centre. The glass goes through a pre-treatment process which removes any paper or plastic. Any metal is removed with magnets. It is then sorted by colour and washed to remove any further impurities. Then it is crushed, melted and moulded into new products.
Glass is a highly versatile material with almost limitless applications; it makes sense to recover as much glass as practically possible. It does not degrade through the recycling process so it can be recycled again and again, indefinitely.
This is one of the most efficient forms of recycling, with almost 100% recovery from of the original material. It’s an extremely clean and pure form, with fantastic environmental benefits.
Our aluminium cans are shredded and heated to remove the print. They are then fed into a furnace at 750 C. Metal ingots are made and then rolled into sheets ready to make new cans. This closed loop recycling process takes eight weeks from start to finish.
Recycling an aluminium can saves 95% of the energy it would have taken to make it from the raw material, bauxite.
Our steel cans are washed and graded in North Devon before being sold on to the metal industry as high-quality feedstock.
Once delivered to the re-processer, the plastics are sorted into different types. An optical sorter which can identify the different grades. The plastics are then shredded and washed, then melted into recycled plastic pellets. They are then sold on to manufacturers. Black plastic can’t be recognised by the lasers of the optical sorter and so it is not widely accepted for recycling, including in Teignbridge. Black plastic should be put in our black bins. Also, soft and film plastics should be put in the black bin. Or we can take them to Coop, who use a different recycling processing chain.
Plastic items that are very dirty cannot be processed by the machines. So it is important that we rinse out plastic items before recycling. We shouldn’t worry about a dirty plastic tray contaminating an entire kerbside box or truck load though – a tolerance is allowed for.
Our food waste in sent for Anaerobic Digestion (AD) to a plant in Holsworthy.
AD is the process by which organic waste is broken down to produce biogas and biofertilizer. This is done in an oxygen-free tank called an anaerobic digester. The process is as follows:
Food waste arrives at the plant; Packaged waste is fed into the machine that separates packaging from the food, i.e., plastic bags are separated out; The shredded plastic material is sent off for recycling when possible and the food waste is mixed together with other waste streams in a tank where it is heated to kill off any pathogens and ensure the right environment for the bacteria to produce the biogas;
Once the food waste has been pasteurised, the waste is passed into a digester tank containing anaerobic bacteria which carry out the digestion process producing biogas (a mixture of methane and CO2); The material that is left behind goes through further screening and is then used as liquid fertiliser on surrounding farmland; The biogas is stored up on site until needed to convert into electricity and heat. Some of the electricity is used to run the plant and the rest is exported to the National Grid. The heat is used to run the pasteurisation process and provide hot water at the site.
Surprisingly, putting composting bags in your food waste caddy actually makes it harder for the machine to process the waste. Instead, we can use any plastic bag (except black bin bags) in the food waste container such as bread bags or plastic liners from cereal boxes, which will be extracted automatically and recycled.
A huge amount of food is still wasted and a great deal still goes into black bins.
Garden waste, covered by a subscription service, not by council tax, stays in Devon and goes to Kingsteignton, where it is made into compost, typically used in large landscaping or reclamation projects.
Black Bin Waste
Devon County Council is responsible for determining what happens to our black bin waste after it is collected by Teignbridge. Teignbridge black bin waste is no longer sent to landfill – the former site between Kingsteignton and Chudleigh is full, but it is still actively managed. Instead, it is sent to Energy From Waste (EFW) facilities in Exeter and Plymouth. These facilities first run some similar processes to those we’ve already described to remove any remaining metal, for example. These facilities produce energy by incinerating waste to produce heat and create steam to drive a turbine to produce electricity which is fed into the National Grid.
What About Tetra Paks? (Bovey Larder addition)
Teignbridge won’t take Tetrahedral cartons in roadside recycling, but we can take them to special skips such as the ones at Coop at Trago Mills, or B&Q Newton Abbot carpark, or the Household Recycling Centre at Brunel Road. That said, unfortunately, they are not easy to recycle because the carton is a laminate of aluminium foil, paperboard and plastic film. The aluminium layer is relatively valuable and some reports say this metal is extracted and the rest of the carton ends up being incinerated; other reports say the paperboard is extracted and recycled, but the plastic and aluminium layers remain combined and may end up in the cement industry – neither of these is ideal, so it’s best to avoid if you can.
If everyone in the World consumed at the same rate as the UK, we would need 2.7 Earths’ resources to meet our demands! For Australia, that figure rises to 4.1 Earths and for the US, it’s a whopping 5 Earths.
Recycling reduces the need to extract raw materials, conserves resources, saves water and energy and reduces the need for landfill and incineration.
Many of us will have seen documentaries which show the dumping of waste, particularly plastic, in developing countries, where it often pollutes land, rivers and oceans. It was therefore good to hear that Teignbridge do not ship any waste abroad and all our recycling is dealt with in this country.
It was also fascinating to hear that the World already has enough plastic and aluminium in circulation to meet our demands. If we were to maximise recycling globally, we would never need to extract any more raw materials for plastic packaging or aluminium cans.
- * https://www.letsrecycle.com/councils/league-tables/2019-20-overall-performance/
- Channel 4 Dispatches: Dirty Truth About Your Rubbish. First shown 8th March 2021
- For more information on the activities of Climate Emergency: Bovey & Heathfield contact firstname.lastname@example.org.