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I work in recycling & waste management AMA

(125 Posts)
amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 12:37:15

I've worked in waste & recycling for the last 12 years for various different councils. I've worked on waste reduction projects, Home composting, waste & recycling collections, waste disposal & contracts & lots & lots of communication projects!

Waste & recycling are something people always seem to discuss & the media coverage of my industry is rarely positive despite all of the incredible efforts of the many committed individuals working in it.

Hoping I should be able to answer your questions!

PavlovianLunge Wed 25-Jul-18 13:48:49

When we lived in London, we had a box for paper, a box for metal and plastic, a box for glass, a food caddy, and a general waste wheelie bin. Now, out in the sticks, we have a wheelie bin for recyclables and one for general waste, that’s it.

Why would different areas have such widely differing practices? I’m guessing that our local arrangement needs more space and manpower for sorting, which would be at a premium in London; could that be why?

kaytee87 Wed 25-Jul-18 13:58:05

Are you really Tony Soprano?

kaytee87 Wed 25-Jul-18 13:58:54

I kid, I kid.

If recycling has food on it or incorrect things are put into bins, is it true that none of it can be recycled?

HeyMacWey Wed 25-Jul-18 14:00:47

How much UK plastic recycling is actually recycled in the UK?

Our council have assured us that none of what we recycle is shipped abroad, but I'm not sure I 100% believe them.

claraschu Wed 25-Jul-18 14:08:59

I keep hearing that contaminated loads are just binned. I assume all loads are contaminated, because people are so bad at sorting their rubbish, so is most recycling going into landfill?

Also, if I pick up bottles and cans n the side of the road and they are a bit dusty or muddy, do they need to be washed?

Do you have a master plan to get people to do a better job with their recycling?

I want your job! I feel you are doing something truly meaningful and significant

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 16:36:06

@PavlovianLunge yep space required for sorting facilities is a pretty large footprint. Plus there is an argument that kerbside sort schemes provide better quality material as it's easier for collection staff to leave any contamination behind. The counter argument for comingled collections (where everything is mixed together) is that you tend to get more people taking part and a higher volume of material put out for collection. Basically all recycling schemes depend on what facilities are already in place & what markets are available to send the collected material on to.

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 16:56:34

@kaytee87 I wish, didn't he have a swimming pool?!!!!! Sadly as a council employee I'm very good at paying tax!!!

Dirty items reduce the quality of plastic & paper & any poor quality material is really hard to shift these days, partly down to our own laws relating to export but mainly down to depressed markets being more fussy about what they're willing to do about secondary processing. China had a huge crackdown on poor quality material imports as they introduced recycling in their own territory & could control quality. Glass and metals don't rely on super high quality levels as much as the recycling process involves very high temperatures so burns off bits of paper/food residues. Worth remembering though if you've got a comingled collection that dirty metals/glass will contaminate the other stuff.

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 16:59:04

@HeyMacWey I would be suspicious of that claim too...

extinctspecies Wed 25-Jul-18 17:02:26

Our council is going from source-separated recycling to co-mingled collections. You will now also be able to include plastic food cartons & tetrapaks.

Some people think is is regressive, as EU law says source separate is better.

What is your view?

sulflower Wed 25-Jul-18 17:02:36

I peel the outer layer of plastic off my fabric condition and laundry detergent bottles before recycling them (also rinse them out), is it necessary to do this (the peeling of plastic).

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 17:13:33

@HeyMacWey sorry pressed post too soon. I'd be suspicious because there are so few plastic recycling facilities in the UK. In my view there's nothing inherently wrong with shipping waste abroad for recycling; most products we buy are shipped in from abroad so we're using ships that would otherwise be floating around with ballast on them. The only proviso is that the facility accepting the waste is well run/regulated which is sometimes where we go wrong.

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 17:27:56

Thank you @claraschu that's nice to hear, sometimes it's a pretty thankless job, especially with resources stretched so thin we have to reduce services (like charging for garden waste collections).

Contamination is a big issue, but I've never known a full load get rejected. A big part of the recycling process is picking out contamination so that material is of a high enough quality for the market. Obviously that costs money though, so the less contamination there is the better all round. Some elements will be sent for disposal not recycling- in the U.K. any "non-target" materials (eg nappies or food in a comingled collection) will be sent for disposal straight away. Other bits that don't get recycled get removed by secondary facilities and this is called process waste. An example of this would be black plastic in plastic bales.

My master plan of recycle or die keeps getting knocked back grin but I'll keep working to make recycling schemes clear to understand & try and engage with as many people as possible so that they want to recycle!

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 17:32:25

@extinctspecies source separated material is usually far cleaner than comingled collections, but the amount collected is usually less than can be achieved with comingled scheme. In the current climate (less focus on recycling rates more focus on quality) I wouldn't have thought it was the best move, but there will be financial drivers at play that mean this is the best value for your area. Believe me you don't mess about with peoples waste collections without good reason!!!

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 17:36:34

@sulflower I always love hearing from people like you smile makes it all feel worthwhile!

Rinsing is good as it will stop any residue going onto other materials like paper or card. Removing the labels is not necessary as this will be part of the process for getting the material ready to be recycled.

PavlovianLunge Wed 25-Jul-18 17:45:36

I have to say that the boxes were a chore, and we recycled despite them, not because of them.

We chose to keep our inside, because they weren’t waterproof, so storage space and the physical lugging of them was an inconvenience.

I think we’re pretty good at recycling, even with the one bin. Everything gets washed, rinsed, or at least wiped clean.

I suspect we put non-recyclables in (there seems to be some debate around black or grey plastic, such as with packs of bacon, also harder plastic, like ice cream tubs), but I figure that as long as it’s clean and dry, it won’t contaminate, and can be easily out-sorted if needs be. Is this a reasonable approach, or should we err on the side of caution? The local council website isn’t the most helpful.

BrownTurkey Wed 25-Jul-18 17:47:14

Do you recycle meticulously at home?
Way back when, I used to house share with someone who was then and is now a big person in Friends of the Earth and he was the only housemate who never took stuff to the bottle bank (pre kerbside collection). hmm

travelmonster Wed 25-Jul-18 17:48:13

If I put a plastic straw inside a carton, will it be found by the machines or should I separate out the plastic straw from the carton?

Foil Oxo cube wrappers - tiny bits of foil... ok to recycle or too tiny to be spotted by the machine?

pennycarbonara Wed 25-Jul-18 17:54:29

What types of recycling facilities are in development in Britain at the moment?

Incidentally it's always nice to see informed comment from people who've worked in the same field in a few different local areas. Sometimes people generalise overly from experience in one place when things aren't actually the same everywhere. (I thought that was a problem on another recent thread about recycling.) Also means you can bring good ideas from other places to the new job.

I would rather like to see at least part of the recycling industry nationalised (including manufacture of new goods from recycled materials) as it's work that needs doing but isn't consistently profitable. I am not fussed about renationalising utilities the way some people are, but I think nationalisation / more public ownership could help in recycling.
How would that make your work easier or harder?

claraschu Wed 25-Jul-18 18:05:42

Thank you so much for your answers. I am very happy to hear that not so much gets rejected- that made my day. I have heard that metal is the most efficient thing to recycle, so I am constantly fishing drinks cans out of bins in parks and out of the gutter. What else does it make most sense to recycle in the UK?

Bamaluz Wed 25-Jul-18 19:01:37

Are cardboard loo roll tubes recyclable?

unadventuretime Wed 25-Jul-18 20:59:50

In some other countries they have bottle deposit schemes for plastic bottles (& automated return points outside the supermarket that print you a receipt for the returned amount off your next shop). Why do you think this has never been introduced in the UK?

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 21:39:39

@PavlovianLunge absolutely the best approach the trouble with plastics is that there are many different types & the majority of householders don't care too greatly about checking what's what, so in order to make it as simple as possible the message is about plastic pots, tubs, trays & bottles. If your area collect these (some only collect bottles) then what you're doing is absolutely spot on.

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 21:42:50

@BrownTurkey yep, I get very hung up on doing the right thing! It got a bit obsessive at one point & started causing me problems with my DH confused since we've had a kid I'm a little more relaxed & now she's weaning my food waste is the worst it's ever been blush

amawaster Wed 25-Jul-18 21:46:34

@travelmonster cartons get pulped, so any bits of plastic will be removed as part of the recycling process. Cartons are really hard to recycle because they have layers of different materials that all have to be pulled apart before anything useful can be done with them, there is however a carton recycling plant in the U.K. which is great news.

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