What really happens to stuff we send for recycling?

Question posed by Jenny Harper Gow

A few people are finding companies like Viridor or Terra Cycle that claim that they recycle everything, I don’t want to be a party pooper and I wish it were true but wondered what your take on it is? After all if it was a realistic option I am assuming we would all be sending our plastic to them including the council. Cristina is also asking why are so many of the bottles she is putting in her recycling not no 1’s they are 2’s 3’s and 4’s she wants to know does the council then pick them out and throw them away only keeping the 1’s?

I am thinking of suggesting that we have a go at contacting each of these companies that people have found and try and send a weeks worth of our plastic waste to them to see what happens – seems more positive than me just saying I am sure they don’t recycle everything – what do you reckon?

Thank you answers man,

Thanks for this. Of course it’s not true. But it isn’t easy for members of the public to find their way behind it. Campaigners have to ask the right questions and unpick the weasel words.

Typically MRFs, sorting comingled domestic material, will lay waste to 15-20% (whereas separated collections like ours waste less than 12%). Some of that mashed-up mess ends up as refuse derived fuel (RDF) which is burned and/or exported to northern EU (tho standards are now being proposed and drawn up by Eunomia) and other stuff is exported to East Asia for sorting by unregulated cheap (often child) labour for basic recycling and the rest to non-EU regulated fates – meaning uncontrolled burning or burial. The contaminated glass which falls out of the process can go for roadfill. Meanwhile the stuff actually sent to reprocessors has to be cleaned again at the reprocessors’ expense, because the contaminants can damage their plant, and up to another 4% can be sent to landfill.

The waste companies somehow manage to count all that as recycled, in a conjuring trick worthy of the Wizard of Oz. People want their green consciences salved, and so they want to believe it’s true. And the waste companies always have someone available to comment when questions come up and standard generalist reporters don’t know what to ask, or even that there is another view and then thankyou that’s all we’ve got time for tonite.

Having said that, take a look at this from BBC Wales this week – very helpful:http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b083vql7/week-in-week-out-keeping-a-lid-on-it

In the FoD case, Biffa do the collections (badly and expensively in my view) but the council retains title to the material and (through the county) gets to sell it. Biffa can’t hide very much but it doesn’t need to. Elsewhere it behaves as described above.

Answering Christina is one for Marsha – let’s ask her – but I suspect that all bottles except probably PVC can be recycled and probably are after making it to the sorting plant. Please see stuff I was going to bring tomorrow attached, which may answer it but I can get back to Bernard Chase at WRAP with more questions if need be.

Not sure about sending plastics to the waste companies. They can throw any amount of money and PR at these optics. Not one we can win right now and would be a lot of work.

Hope that’s helpful.

Plastics Market Situation Report Spring 2016

RECOUP UK Household plastics collection survey 2015

Polypropylene and the Plastics Action Campaign Advice and Encouragement from Bernard Chase, WRAP Plastics Specialist

Monmouthshire – Total Municipal Waste Collected/Generated

Dr Monica Barlow letter to Paul Quayle Waste Strategy Officer Monmouthshire County Council

Bath & North East Somerset Recycling & recovery end use register 2015/16

(Referred to in Monica’s letter)