Little Green Ways

We all have room to green up our lives – let's do this!

Becoming a little obsessed lately with waste and what exactly happens to it after it’s neatly and conveniently whisked away from sight I decided to do a little research.  I spoke to the “Waste Awareness Team” at our local authority who answered some of my questions about what happens to our recycled waste, gave me some statistics and more detailed breakdown about exactly WHAT we can recycle.

What can I recycle?

DID YOU KNOW More than 10% of material put in the blue bin is wrong!

So its up to us to ensure we put in

  • clean items
  • not wrapped in plastic bags
  • squeeze down your bottles or containers and put the lids back on.

Ok, so this is great! It’s a good overview but when we really get into the smaller details there are so many unanswered questions,  so many unmarked plastic pots which leave you not knowing whether or not to put it in the bin!  So here is a more concise list which they kindly provided me with.

North Ayrshire Council – Plastics Recycling Guide 2018

 Items  Blue
Plastic bottles – drinks, detergents, hair products etc. YES
Plastic trays – ready meals, cold meat, fruit trays etc. YES
Plastic tubs – sauces, soup, ice-cream etc. YES
Plastic pots – coleslaw, yoghurts etc. YES
Plastic carrier bags/bin liners (please reuse) /
Plastic bags from food packaging – frozen food, breads, fruit etc. /
Plastic wrappers e.g. sweets, biscuits, crackers etc. /
Plastic foils – crisps, sweets, yoghurt lids etc. /
Clear film from ready meals, cold meat etc. /
Plastic foil pouches – cat food/capri suns /
Plastic pouches – rice, sweet share bags /
Coffee pods /
Bubble wrap /
Clingfilm /
Plastic tarpaulin /
Polystyrene/Foam – packaging/takeaway containers etc. /
Hard Plastic – Buckets/basins/toys/plant pots etc. /
Toothpaste tubes /
Tooth brushes/disposable razors /
Hangers /
Sponges /
Hoses /
CD’s/DVD’s (please donate) /
Plastic that isn’t clean/can’t be cleaned /

Along with some illumination on the mystical recycling symbols!

What about recycling specific types of plastic?

Pinning down to specific types/ codes of plastic was not possible.  I can only assume that with this broad scope for packaging, some unsuitable plastics must get picked out for landfill or incineration.

We cannot refer to the codes on plastics items to determine
its recyclability or not, as one code/type of plastic can relate to
both items we can and can’t accept in the blue bin. For example, a HDPE milk bottle is accepted in the blue bin but an HDPE plastic bag is not. Both items are recyclable,  but we are restricted to what items we can accept in the blue bin due to the current market for recyclate and what items our contractors are willing to take.

If in doubt – don’t put it in your blue bin.

North Ayrshire Council – Waste Awareness Team

So how much of our recylable waste goes there?

In 2017/18 we sent 0.43% of our blue bin waste to landfill. 90.66% was recycled and 8.91% was sent to an Energy from Waste plant.

North Ayrshire Council – Waste Awareness Team

*Energy From Waste = Incinteration

Local Authority Q&A

  1. Can plastic lids be recycled? – Yes! The good news here is that the lids on your containers can be recycled.  Wash out your container, flatten it down and replace the lid before popping in your blue bin.
  2. Can metal jar lids etc be recycled? – Yes!
  3. Does tinfoil need to be in a ball? – No definitive answer here but other local authorities have deemed than scraps of foil won’t get picked up so gather your foil into fist sizes lumps. So, to be on the safe side,yes!
  4. What about plastic tubs that say “Not Curently Reycled“? – These plastic food trays can be recycled at North Ayrshire.  These symbols are added to trays where 80% or less local authorities are unable to recycle them but we are fortunate that they can be recycled here.
  5. Can you recycle black food trays?  Some recycling facilities use optical tools to pick out recyclable materials from their black conveyor belts – black food trays are not processed, simply because they don’t show up!  We are lucky that in North Ayrshire we can put these in our blue bin. This is what I was told – however further investigation reveals this is not the case – they cannot recycle black plastic.

Black plastic items travelling on the black conveyor belt cannot be ‘seen’ by the optical sorting systems, so they stay in the residue stream.
The Residue of unsortable, unwanted material becomes Refuse Derived Fuel  (RDF) burned under controlled conditions to recover the energy with minimal emissions. Nothing is sent to landfill.

MRF Shotton

So where does the contents of our blue bin go?

First of all our waste is gathered and then shipped off to a facility in Wales for processing at MRF Shotton.  

MRF Shotton – Wales Material Recovery Facility

The the outputs from MRF Shotton include:

  • News & Magazines, mixed paper and cardboard
  • Steel and aluminium cans
  • HDPE Bottles – both natural and coloured
  • PET Bottles – both natural and coloured
  • Glass

No statistics available on what percentage of waste sent here gets recycled, and what it gets recycled into but key here is that North Ayrshire considers their part done and that’s what their statistics relate to. Further information on their processes reveal that this is in large part a sorting facility as opposed to a recycling centre. Their main output is recycled paper and much of the rest then goes onto other facilities around the UK. From there we don’t know.

Good statistics on North Ayrshire Recycling?

While the statistics for recycling seem “good” please note that –

  • we have no idea how much is recycled after it gets shipped of the Wales
  • Barely any plastic is “closed loop” recycling.  What this means is that when you put a plastic bottle into recycling, its “down cycled” into a lower form of plastic and so may come out as a bin bag or a styrofoam cup for example.  Ultimately downgraded plastic will end up as landfill and so the real green answer is to AVOID PLASTIC WHERE POSSIBLE. The only notable exception is opaque white milk cartons which retain their quality and are recycled into the very same type of container for their next cycle.  Isn’t this ironic when one of the green fixes people often turn to is getting a milk delivery in glass bottles! 

The currently unanswerable questions!

  • What percentage of overall waste ultimately ends up in landfill / recycling / incineration.
  • What percentage of recycled material goes to “closed loop” recycling?
  • Are cardboard washing powder containers omitted from recycling?  

But there is still plastic I can’t recycle!

Argh! I hear you say! What about all this plastic that I can’t recycle?!  Well the good news is that with a little bit of sleuthing you can find places that will take some of this stuff the local authority won’t.  I’ve started a list of these places – Can I recycle that? which I hope will build up over time and additionally there is a fantastic site called recycle now which allows you to search for recycling points using your postcode and item. I’ve started using this and found it very thorough and accurate so far!

And then its time to ecobrick.

Once you have recycled everything that you can, there is still left over plastic. What can you do with that? Perhaps you have already heard of ecobricks? Its a great tool for reducing the carbon footprint of our waste as well as keeping it from our environment. I’ve fully embraced ecobricks into my life and will share more on that soon! You can also join the growing movement over on facebook ecobricks page.

Change is a coming…. a new purple bin!

So all this research is great and useful but SOON will be outdated. We are about to be issued a purple bin. This represents a change to what we put in our bins (purple – glass / cans / plastic) and the blue bin will become paper and cardboard only.

But where can I find out more about this fascinating subject?!

Most of the information in this post is both very specific to North Ayrshire and also very basic.  For further reading on what exactly happens to our waste I would reccommend a facebook group called The Eco:Ed Series where much information has been provided in a consise format surrounding all the waste management in the UK.  It’s a real eye opener!

*Please note – this is relevent only to North Ayrshire. You must check these details with your own local authority as the offerings and systems are different with each local authority.

Some Useful links

Information on the new purple bin collection

Information on local recycle points

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *