Recycling collection services vary across the country. The factors that influence these services include whether the area is urban or rural, the different types of housing and the facilities available to process your recycling.
Broadly there are three scheme types:
- ‘Kerbside sort’ schemes where recyclables are sorted into their respective materials on the lorry at the kerbside;
- ‘Two-stream’ where paper and card is collected in one compartment and the containers (cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles and jars) are collected in another compartment; and
- ‘Co-mingled’ collections where all your recyclables are put into one compartment on the lorry before being taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and sorted.
After the materials have been collected and sorted, they are sent for re-processing.
More information on how mixed recycling is sorted can be found in the materials recycling facility (MRF) video.
Once collected and sorted, recycled materials become valuable commodities in the worldwide market. There are many recycling factories here, reprocessing million of tonnes of material every year. For example:
- all of the newsprint manufactured here in the UK is now made from 100% recycled paper;
- all of the organic (garden and kitchen) waste we collect is recycled here, usually quite close to where it is collected;
- over 80% of the glass collected for recycling is used in the UK, the majority of it used to make new glass bottles and jars; and
- last year alone, we recycled 6 billion plastic bottles – that’s the same as each person in Britain recycling 99 bottles in a year!
You can check the postcode locator to see what can be collected in your area.
Whilst recycled materials are valuable commodities in the worldwide market and are financially important; recycling is good for the environment too. It makes best use of our limited natural resources. Recycling is a real success story and we should be proud of what we have achieved as a nation – but there is still much more we can do
In 2008-09 over 27 million tonnes of household waste was collected by local authorities. Of this:
- 50.3% of this waste was sent to landfill;
- 36.9% was recycled or composted and
- 12.2% was incinerated for energy recovery.
The amount of household waste we recycled in 2008 reached an impressive 8.7 million tonnes. That alone saved the same amount of CO2 that nearly a million return flights from London to Sydney would produce.
The biggest problem is when incorrect items are put in the recycling container.
These items have to be removed; otherwise the quality of the recycling would be reduced - affecting the markets into which it can be sold.
The main issue faced by the paper re-processors is the lack of high quality material available. For many people, paper is often collected from your home with other recyclable items. Although these materials are later separated at a Materials Recycling Facility, the other items can sometimes affect the quality of the paper.
The materials collected for recycling vary from area to area; so although an item of packaging may state that it is recyclable, only put out for collection if your Council has confirmed that they can accept it. To find out what you can recycle at home check the postcode locator.
Councils use different methods of collecting your recycling. There are kerbside ‘sort’ schemes where recyclables are sorted into their respective materials on the lorry at the kerbside; and co-mingled collections where all your recyclables are put into one compartment on the lorry before being taken to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and sorted. This section is looking at co-mingled collections.
At the MRF, all the mixed recycling is sorted and separated into different types of materials by hand or machine (or both) before being sent to manufacturers who make it into new products. The machinery, processes and the materials that each MRF can accept do vary, so the video explains the basic principal of the process.
Once materials have been sorted, recycled materials become valuable commodities in the worldwide market.
- The recycling bin, box or sack is emptied into collection vehicle
- The co-mingled materials are taken to a Material Recycling Facility and loaded onto conveyors
- The sorting process begins with the removal of incorrect items such as crisp packets and plastics bags
- A vibrating machines separates the cardboard and paper - different types of paper are sorted by hand and then baled
- The remaining recyclables continue on another conveyor where steel and tins are removed using magnets
- Different types of plastic are identified and separated using optical scanners
- A special kind of magnet is used to sort aluminium cans
- Glass is the remaining material and this drops off the end of the conveyor into a large container (Note - not all MRF's accept glass).
Once separated they are taken for processing at specialist factories.
The biggest problem is when incorrect items are put in the recycling container as they have to be removed by hand. This slows down the process and if these items are missed it can clog or damage the machinery and other equipment. This is why it is important to know which items you can and can't recycle in your local area.
To find out what you can recycle at home check out the postcode locator.
The best thing that can happen to food is that it makes it to our plates and is enjoyed.
Avoiding throwing out food that could have been eaten will save you money and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However some food waste is inevitable. Egg shells, banana skins and tea bags are never going to be on the menu.
Home composting is a great way to stop this sort of waste ending up in landfill, and our gardens will really thank us for it. See our Home Composting website for all you need to know about home composting. If you live in an area that has a local food waste recycling collection service, you can use this to dispose of anything you can’t eat, or compost at home. It can be recycled into a good quality soil improver or fertiliser and even generate electricity that can be fed back into the national grid.
- Around 7.0 million tonnes of food is thrown away by households in the UK every year, and more than half (60%) of it could have been eaten.
- Little by little all this waste adds up, over a year the average family throws away around £700 of food shopping.
- Some of the waste is made up of things like peelings, cores and bones, but the majority (60%) is, or once was, perfectly good food.
- Most of it ends up in landfill sites where it rots and releases methane, a damaging green house gas. Throwing away food is also a huge waste of the energy, water and packaging used in its production, transportation and storage. The CO2 impact associated with the food waste that could have been eaten is equivalent to taking one in four cars off UK roads.
Many councils now collect food waste, which can be recycled in one of two ways.
The first, In-vessel composting, involves mixing food waste with garden waste, shredding it and composting it in a tunnel or container for around two to four weeks. Temperatures of up to 70 degrees C speed up the process and kill any harmful microbes. It is then left for a further 1-3 months with regular turning and checks to ensure quality, before going on to be used as soil conditioner.
The second method, Anaerobic Digestion, uses micro-organisms called 'methanogens' to break down food waste, animal manures and energy crops in the absence of oxygen, inside an enclosed tank. As it breaks down, it gives off 'bio-gas' that is collected and used to generate electricity, heat or transport fuels. It also creates biofertiliser, which can be used in farming and land regeneration.
Reducing food waste is a major issue and not just about good food going to waste; wasting food costs the average family with children £60 a month and has serious environmental implications too.
The amount of food we throw away is a waste of resources. Just think about all the energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation and storage. This all goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food.
Cheese is a good example – feeding and milking the cows, cooling and transporting the milk, processing it in to cheese, packing it, getting it to the shops, keeping it at the right temperature all the time. If it then gets thrown away it will most likely end up in a landfill site, where, rather than harmlessly decomposing as many people think, it rots and actually releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
- Don’t forget to try to avoid wasting food in the first place - (for ideas and simple tips visit Love Food Hate Waste) and also try to compost at home.
- A food waste caddy in your kitchen can help you to separate out your food waste for recycling and composting. This can be emptied into your compost bin or council food waste bin every couple of days.
- Your council may recommend that you line your food waste caddy with a liner or newspaper. Only use liners that are recommended by your council as some may not break down in the composting process.
- Where possible keep your bins out of direct sunlight and keep the bin lid closed.
When garden waste is recycled it is transformed into nutrient rich soil conditioner. This can then be used in a range of different applications, such as for agriculture, for land reclamation and as an ingredient in some multipurpose composts you can buy at a garden centre.
Most types of garden waste can be recycled, including bark, flowers, grass and hedge cuttings, leaves, plants, small branches, twigs and weeds. If you are unable to compost at home, you can take it to your local garden waste recycling point or put it into your garden waste collection scheme, if you have one, where it will then be taken to a central composting facility to be processed. Check with your council to see if you can recycle garden waste locally!
- Garden waste makes up 14% of the average household bin (WRAP, 2002).
- Around 95% of local councils collect garden waste.
- Adding compost to soil increases the nutrients and improves the soil’s structure to help plants grow.
Garden waste collected at the kerbside is taken to a composting site where it is turned into a nutritious soil conditioner.
When the garden waste arrives at the composting site any material that is not compostable is removed, the remaining waste is then shredded and then laid out in a long pile to decompose, usually in the open air.
The process at a composting site is similar to that that takes place in home compost bin, but is actively managed to speed up the process. However due to the amount of material the temperature reached is a lot higher than in a normal household compost bin. Temperature can reach up to 60oC. This higher temperature means that the enzymes and bacteria are quickly put to work resulting in finished compost in just a few weeks.
The material is turned frequently to provide much needed oxygen to micro organisms that help decompose the material. High temperatures kill off any harmful microbes, weeds and plant diseases.
The final part of the process involves screening the compost to remove any remaining contaminants and to grade the material for various end uses. Any compost that is still oversized or hasn’t decomposed enough, can then be put back through the process until it has composted down sufficiently.
The whole process takes between 8 and 16 weeks, depending on the final use for the compost.
In 2008/9, a total of 5.1 million tonnes of material was composted or digested in the UK, of which approximately 90% was garden waste. Nearly ¾ of this material was composted at sites that operate to the national composting specification (PAS100), which controls the quality of the process and compost produced. Although composting sites have measures to remove contamination, it is important that garden waste collected for composting is as clean as possible and that plastics and large stones are kept to a minimum, in order to ensure that a quality product can be made.
Open air windrow composting is generally used for garden waste materials only, and cannot accept catering or animal wastes (such as food from household kitchens). Garden wastes containing these other types of material have to be processed though in-vessel composting (IVC) or anaerobic digestion (AD) in order to comply with the Animal By-Products Regulations.
- Compost can be applied in a range of end uses, within gardens, on brownfield sites, landscaping and full scale agriculture.
- It can be used as soil improver, mulch, topsoil constituent, turf dressing, and growing medium constituent.
Many of the food and drink products we buy are packaged in cans made from either aluminium or steel and both of these materials can be recycled after we have finished with them to make either new cans or other products.
Did you know?
Recycling aluminium uses only around five per cent of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite. The metal can be recycled time and time again without loss of properties, so getting the aluminium recycling habit is one of the best things we can do for the environment.
Steel can also be recycled time and time again without loss of quality; by simply recycling our steel cans we can conserve non-renewable fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of energy and the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Aluminium cans are:
- Shredded, removing any coloured coating
- Melted in a huge furnace
- The molten metal is poured into ingot casts to set. Each ingot can be made into around 1.5m cans
NB: Aluminium foil is a different alloy and is usually recycled separately with other aluminium scraps to make cast items such as engine components, where it makes a big contribution to making vehicles lighter and more energy efficient.
Steel cans are:
- Put into the furnace where molten iron is added
- Oxygen is then blasted into the furnace which heats up to around 1700 degrees centigrade
- The liquid metal is poured into a mould to form big slabs which are then rolled into coils
- These coils are used to make all sorts of steel products such as bikes, cars, bridges, paperclips or even new food and drink cans.
Aluminium is a resource that forms about 8% of the earth’s crust. It is mined and extracted from bauxite, which contains the compound alumina, in an energy-intensive electrolytic process. Four tonnes of bauxite contains two tonnes of alumina, which yields one tonne of valuable aluminium. The metal is used in buildings, transport and other industrial applications, as well as packaging.
Aluminium is the most cost-effective material to recycle, because of the huge energy savings - up to 95%. In addition, all the scraps left over from the aluminium production process can be melted down and used again and again. For this reason, recycling is part of the normal lifecycle for large industrial products - around 75 per cent of all the aluminium ever made is still in circulation.
Recycling 1kg of aluminium saves up to:
- 6kg of bauxite
- 4kg of chemical products
- 14kWh of electricity
Steel is made from one of the earth’s most common natural resources, iron ore, as well as limestone and coal. Mining for these raw materials and the production process involved in making steel have an environmental impact. Not only does the process require large amounts of energy but raw materials are wasted when mining, and the production process also produces waste and emissions.
Steel can be recycled time and time again without loss of quality, so by simply recycling our steel we can:
- Conserve non-renewable fossil fuels
- Reduce the consumption of energy
- Reduce the amount of raw materials being wasted
- Reduce the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
Both aluminium and steel are easy to recycle and there are huge environmental benefits for doing this - yet many cans still go to landfill. If we recycle more cans we can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products.
Did you know?
In the UK our steel cans only contain 25% recycled steel, while the cans manufactured in Europe contain 54%.1
- Remember to recycle drinks cans when away from home - i.e. at work, while travelling or at sports and leisure locations. If you can't find a recycling bin - take it home and recycle it later.
- Rinse out food cans with your leftover washing up water before the residue has chance to dry out - it'll take much less effort!
- Check the postcode locator to see what you can recycle in your area.
1 source: www.scrib.org
Aluminium drinks cans are usually recycled into ingots at a special 'closed-loop' plant in Warrington. This is the ultimate recycling process for environmental efficiency and used cans are often recycled, made into new cans, filled and put back on the shelf in just six weeks.
Foil and other aluminium is generally recycled with other aluminium scraps such as window frames and road signs, and cast into engine components for vehicles, which makes them lighter and more fuel efficient.
Recycled steel can be found in incredibly diverse variety of products including:
- Bicycle frames
- Train tracks
- Ship hulls
- Food and drinks cans
Steel can be infinitely recycled and because it is such a widely used material, the ranges of possible uses for it are endless.
Many beverage cartons are recyclable, They are made from paper and lined with either plastic or for longer-life products, aluminium. The collection process for cartons varies between areas. Some councils collect cartons for recycling as part of the recycling collection service; however cartons are more usually collected at recycling centres.
- As a nation we use 57k tonnes of cartons every year – that is the same weight of 331 blue whales.
- 86% of local authorities now collect cartons for recycling and one in four do so in kerbside collections.
- Cartons are made with between 70% and 90% paperboard, a renewable natural product and much of the carton can be reclaimed in the recycling process.
At present, cartons sent for recycling within the UK are transported to Sweden. The cartons are shredded, mixed with warm water and pulped for approximately thirty minutes in a large machine, similar to a top loader washing machine. Flotation techniques are used to separate the paper fibres from the plastic and aluminium lining. The recovered paper fibres are rolled flat and are usually used as the paperboard component of plasterboard. At the moment, the recovered aluminium and plastic is separated out to be used for energy to power the mill, but the carton industry is currently working on other things that these materials can be recycled into.
- There are no reprocessing plants in the UK.
- Cartons are baled and transported to a mill in Sweden, where they are recycled.
- At the moment, the aluminium and plastic separated from the paper fibre is incinerated and used for energy to power the mill. The carton industry is currently working on other things that these materials can be recycled into.
The paper recycled from the cartons can be turned into:
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations came into force in January 2007 and aim to reduce the amount of this waste going to landfill and improve recovery and recycling rates.
Electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK. Around 1 million tonnes are generated every year.
So what items are included?
Items such as kitchen appliances, mobile phones, computers, TV’s, electrical and electronic tools can all be either recycled or reused.
Did you know?
- On average, each person in the UK buys three new electrical
items each year or 173 million nationally.
- For every 7kg of small electricals bought last year - the average amount per person - only a fraction (1.3kg) was sent to be recycled
- There’s no need to bin items – you can drop them off at your local recycling centre. Recycle Now has a handy postcode locator to find your nearest recycling centre that accepts waste electricals.
- Recycling electricals is environmentally friendly – unwanted electricals and electronics can be recycled and contain really valuable raw materials. For example, one iron contains enough steel to produce 13 steel cans.
- Some retailers offer free recycling schemes or take back options. Ask your local retailer for more information.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment are collected at council recycling centres and at some retailers. It is then taken to a reprocessing plant where they are shredded into small pieces. Once shredded...
- Strong magnets remove ferrous metals, such as steel
- Other non metallic metals are removed by using electronic currents
- Plastic is sorted into types by using various methods such as:
- near infrared light; and
- density separation
...but my item is still in working order!
Items that are still in working order can be reused. Organisations such as the British Heart Foundation
The Royal Mail have a recycling campaign called Simply Drop for very small electricals such as cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players. Find out more at Simply Drop
Electrical items contain a range of materials that can be separated for recycling and used in new products, such as plastics and precious metals including gold and copper.
All this saves resources and energy.
If electrical items end up in landfill, hazardous substances will leak out and cause soil and water contamination - harming wildlife and even human health.
A huge amount of electrical items are purchased each year and currently only a small proportion , particularly small items, are collected for recycling.
Many of us are not aware that items such as irons, toasters and mobile phones can be recycled. These items have a tendency to sit in a cupboard or drawer and gather dust, when in fact they could be put to better use.
Facilities for recycling are improving and there are also charities and stores, such as the British Heart Foundation, who take useable, working items for reuse.
Electrical items contain many different parts which, once recycled, can be used again in a variety of new applications. Below are examples of what some of the recycled parts may become:
Hover mowers contain:
- Strong ABS plastic that can be used for light, rigid, molded products such as musical instruments, cases, pipe fittings and car bumpers
- Copper motors that can be turned into copper pipe, coins in some currencies, jewellery, wire and as winding wire for motors in new electronic products (fridges, vacuums, tools, toys, motors etc. etc.) Copper can be mixed with zinc to make brass, or with tin to make bronze.
Games consoles contain:
- Steel that can be used for computer casings, car parts and beams
- Circuit boards, which have a range of precious metals including gold, silver, platinum and palladium; platinum and palladium are used in catalytic convertors and mobile phones…and jewellery
Mobile phones contain:
- Precious metals (like gold, platinum and palladium), a variety of which can be recycled into component plating and low voltage electrical contacts; palladium plays a key role in the technology used for fuel cells.
- Zinc which is used to galvanise steel; it can also be mixed with copper to make brass. Ships and submarines use zinc blocks to stop rust forming.
Domestic waste glass (known as cullet) is easy to recycle. The UK currently recycles around 50% of container glass (like bottles and jars) and whilst this figure has doubled over the last five years it still lags behind other countries i.e. both Switzerland and Finland recycle more than 90% of their glass.
Glass is usually collected in 'bottle banks' at recycling centres or as part of our kerbside collection. However there is still more we can all do, such as remembering to recycle our clear jars (pasta sauce jars and jam jars) which are often forgotten.
The UK business sector still has a lot of work to do to recycle glass – bars, restaurants and pubs currently throw away 600,000 tonnes of glass every year, with most of it ending up in landfill.
Did you know?
Recycling two bottles saves enough energy to boil enough water for five cups of tea!
Once glass is collected and taken to be reprocessed, it is:
- Crushed and contaminants removed (mechanised colour sorting is usually undertaken at this stage if required)
- Mixed with the raw materials to colour and/or enhance properties as necessary
- Melted in a furnace
- Moulded or blown into new bottles or jars
The production and use of glass has a number of environmental impacts. New glass is made from four main ingredients: Sand, Soda ash, Limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments.
Although there is no shortage of these raw materials as yet, they all have to be quarried, which can damage the landscape, affect the environment and use more energy.
Glass is 100% recyclable and can be endlessly reprocessed with no loss of quality. Therefore by simply recycling our glass we can:
- Conserve non-renewable fossil fuels
- Reduce the emission of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.
Did you know?
- The addition of domestic waste glass (known as cullet) to a furnace in the glass manufacturing process, substantially reduces the energy requirement and decreases CO2 emissions. Each tonne of cullet added to the furnace saves 1.2 tonnes of raw materials - decreasing emissions still further.
- New glass takes a lot of energy to make, first in transporting the materials to the furnace and then to heat them to a high temperature. An efficient furnace burns 4 gigajoules (GJ) (unit of energy measuring heat) to melt every tonne of glass – that’s the energy equivalent of burning 250kg of wood.
Although glass is easy to recycle, there is currently some imbalance in the supply of glass for recycling compared to demand for recycled glass for manufacturing. The prices paid for glass differ, depending on the colour (usually clear, brown, green - blue glass is collected with green glass) which is why we are asked to sort it when we recycle at bottle banks. Mixed glass has a lower value.
The main problem in the UK is that we do not recycle enough clear glass to keep up with demand. We produce lots of clear glass, but export a lot of it as spirit bottles so it leaves our supply chain.
By comparison, we import a large amount of green glass but do manage to recycle it – so the green bottles we make in the UK currently contain at least 85% recycled green glass.
The surplus green glass is:
- Exported to make new green bottles
- Used to make fibreglass insulation
- Used in the manufacture of bricks
- Used as filtration media in effluent treatment works
Recycled glass can be used to make a wide range of everyday products and some that are completely unexpected, including:
- New bottles and jars
- ‘Processed sand’ – finely ground glass used in golf course bunkers
- ‘Glassphalt’ for road surfacing
The different types of glass
We use many different types of glass in the UK, but at home we mostly use ‘soda-lime-silica’ glass for containers like bottles and jars. It is important not to mix up the different types of glass as they are re-processed differently.
Different types of glass include:
- Borosilicate glass – used for heat-resistant cooking equipment like Pyrex
- Lead glass – for sparkling decorative glassware
- Glass fibre –for insulation and fibre optic cable
These different types of glass are not widely recycled so do not add these into your kerbside collection container or bottle banks at the recycling centre.
Colour and quality
During the glass manufacturing process, extra raw materials can be added to give the glass a particular colour or special qualities.
The extra raw materials that can be added are:
- Iron for a brown or green colour
- Cobalt for blue
- Alumina for durability
- Boron to improve resistance to heat or cold
We use paper every day and as a nation 12.5 million tonnes is used each year.
- It takes 7 days for a recycled newspaper to come back as a newspaper again.
- 67% of the paper and cardboard used in the UK is recovered for recycling
- 11 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions were avoided by recycling paper and board in 2008, the equivalent of taking around 3½ million cars off the road.
Paper is collected either at local recycling sites or more usually by a local authority recycling collection. The paper is graded into different qualities.
At the paper mill it is pulped in a tank containing chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, caustic soda, soap and water which separate out the various fibres.
These fibres are then screened to remove various bits of debris such as paper clips, staples, sticky tape and plastic.
In a floatation tank the fibres are cleaned and deinked several times and as a result the fibres get whiter and whiter. Whitening agents are added at this stage and the pulp, which is 99% water and 1% fibre is then pumped onto a paper machine.
It is then passed over a vibrating machine or through rollers which remove most of the water. The water is sent back to the beginning of the process, the remaining material now contains half fibre and half water.
The sheets are then passed through a drying section on heated rollers where the temperature reaches 130 degrees and water is reduced by 5%. The process makes the paper whiter, smoother and more useable.
The paper is then dried and then run through a machine that acts like an ironing board and then wound into huge rolls that weigh up to 30 tonnes.
The paper is then tested to make sure it reaches the correct standard and quality for strength, gloss and brightness.
These rolls are then divided into smaller reels or sheets, packed and stored before despatching to printers.
The quality of paper produced through our recycled paper is comparable to that made from virgin raw material.
Paper produced from virgin raw material uses far more energy and water than if we recycle our unwanted paper. If paper and card are sent to landfill it rots and in the process emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Recycling can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the whole life of the product.
One of the problems is when incorrect items are put in the recycling container. These items have to be removed, can reduce the quality of the recycled paper and affect the markets into which it can be sold. For paper re-processors, this can result in a lack of high quality material being available.
It is important to remember that whilst an item of packaging may be recyclable, you should only put it out for collection if your Council has confirmed that they can accept it. To find out what you can recycle at home check out the postcode locator.
Each time paper is recycled, the fibres get shorter so unlike other materials it cannot be recycled forever. However, the fibres that can no longer be used are separated by the mill and then either used for energy generation, soil conditioner or sent to landfill.
We can make several uses of the fibres before they are no longer suitable for recycling. Below are some examples of recycled paper.
- All of the newsprint manufactured here in the UK is now made from 100% recycled paper;
- UK tissue mills use around half million tonnes per year of high grade recycled paper;
- Corrugated packaging material consists nearly of 100% recycled material.
Plastic is one of the most popular and useful materials of modern times. However, its popularity is part of the problem: we now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. However, we can optimise the lifespan of plastics by reusing and recycling items as many times as possible.
Did you know?
92% of all UK local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles either from your kerbside collection scheme or at recycling centres.
What about other plastics?
A recent study demonstated mixed plastics packaging (trays, tubs, pots, films etc) can be mechanically recycled and is both economically and environmentally effective to do so. Further work is being conducted in this area and it is hoped that the UK will have comprehensive infrastructure for the collection, sorting and reprocessing of these valuable resources in the UK in the near future.
You can check the postcode locator to find out which plastics your local authority collects.
It is a two-stage process:
- Sorting is mainly done automatically with a manual polish
- Plastic is either melted down directly and moulded into a new shape, or shredded into flakes then melted down before being processed into granulates
Plastic is a popular, useful material but we use a lot of it . However, by optimising the lifespan of plastics by reusing and recycling items as many times as possible, i.e. by recycling used plastic bottles into new ones, we can reduce our need to create ‘new’ plastic, thus:
- Conserving non-renewable fossil fuels (oil)
- Reducing the consumption of energy used
- Reducing the amount of solid waste going to landfill
- Reducing the emission of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
There are many different types of plastic in use, some of which we can recycle in the UK and other types – including that used to make yoghurt pots and margarine tubs for example - that require new technology which is not currently available here, to recycle it efficiently. This means that some plastic still goes to landfill, some is incinerated and some shipped abroad for recycling and foreign manufacturing reuse.
There are currently huge investments being made in Britain into plastics recycling technology to help our domestic recycling facilities cope with the variety of plastics in use and it won’t be long before we operate a more efficient recycling system for all different types of plastic packaging.
In the meantime we can all do our bit to improve things now. Recycling plastic bottles is an easy way. These are usually made from two easily recyclable plastics – PET and HDPE – and can be recycled by most of us via our kerbside collection scheme or local recycling centres.
There is a wide range of products made from recycled plastic, including:-
- polyethylene bin liners and carrier bags
- plastic bottles
- flooring and window frames
- building insulation board
- video and compact disc cassette cases
- fencing and garden furniture
- water butts, garden sheds and composters
- seed trays
- fibre filling for sleeping bags and duvets
- variety of office accessories
The American Society of Plastics Industry developed a standard marking code to help consumers identify and sort the main types of plastic.
The main types of plastics are:
|Polyethylene terephthalate - Fizzy drink bottles and oven-ready meal trays|
|High-density polyethylene - Bottles for milk and washing-up liquids.|
|Polyvinyl chloride - Food trays, cling film, bottles for squash, mineral water and shampoo|
|Low density polyethylene - Carrier bags and bin liners.|
|Polypropylene - Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays.|
|Polystyrene - Yoghurt pots, foam meat or fish trays, hamburger boxes and egg cartons, vending cups, plastic cutlery, protective packaging for electronic goods and toys|
|Any other plastics that do not fall into any of the above categories. An example is melamine, which is often used in plastic plates and cups.|
If you look on the plastics products you buy, you should spot the little symbol.
Degradable plastics - These are oil based and either eventually break down or disperse in to smaller fragments. These may then potentially biodegrade or break down further to reduce the material to water, CO2, biomass (plant matter) and trace elements.
Biodegradable plastics - These should break down cleanly, in a defined time period, to form simple molecules found in the environment such as carbon dioxide and water.
The predominant mechanism which decomposes biodegradable plastics is the action of micro-organisms which produces:
- carbon dioxide
- inorganic compounds, or
Compostable plastics - These are a subset of biodegradable plastics which must demonstrate that they biodegrade and disintegrate completely in a compost bin or system during the 3-4 months composting process. It refers to 'industrial composting' where the compost reaches higher temperatures than home composting .
Disposal of degradable and biodegradable plastics - These plastics will not degrade effectively in a landfill site and could potentially hinder the quality of recycled plastic if they enter a conventional plastics recycling system.