We’ve been blue-binned!

The Blue Bin effect.

So, after years of separating our recyclable waste at home, we now put it all in one blue bin. So how does the new system work and where does all our rubbish go to?

The simple answer is that everything that can be recycled goes to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) where it is sorted, separated, whether by hand or machine and sometimes both, then sent to manufacturers to be made into new products.

But let’s have a look at the individual materials.

Recycle Food1.         Food waste  a) can be mixed with garden waste, composted in a tunnel in temperatures of up to 70°C, which kills any harmful microbes and can then be used as a soil conditioner. b) Anaerobic Digestion uses micro-organisms 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 and heat or transport fuels. It also creates bio-fertiliser which can be used in farming and land regeneration.

Recycle garden waste2.         Garden Waste When this is recycled, it is transformed into nutrient rich soil conditioner, which can be used for agriculture, land reclamation and as an ingredient in some multi-purpose garden centre composts. However, the garden waste collected at our kerbside is taken to a composting site where, using temperatures up to 60°C (which is higher than most home compost heaps), it is turned into a soil conditioner. The higher temperature means that enzymes and bacteria work quickly, resulting in finished compost within weeks.

Recycle cans3.         Cans a) Recycling aluminium uses only around 5% of the energy and emissions needed to make it from bauxite, the raw material. The metal can be recycled time and time again, without loss of properties. The cans are shredded, removing any coloured coating, melted in a huge furnace and, when molten, poured into ingot casts to set. Aluminium foil is a different alloy and is used to make cast items such as engine components. b) Steel can also be recycled time and time again without losing loss of quality. Steel cans are put into a furnace where molten iron is added, and then oxygen is blasted into the furnace, which heats it up to around 1700°C. The liquid metal is then poured into a mould to form big slabs, which are then rolled into coils. The products made from these coils range from bicycles, cars and bridges to paperclips and new food and drink cans.

Recycle cartons4.         Cartons Many beverage cartons are made from paper and either lined with plastic or aluminium.  At present our cartons are sent to a Swedish mill, where they are shredded, mixed with warm water and pulped. Flotation techniques are used to separate the paper fibres from the linings. The paper fibres are rolled flat and usually used as the paperboard component of plasterboard. The recovered aluminium and plastic are separated out to be used for energy to power the mill.

Recycle glass bottles5. Glass Bottles Once glass, or cullet as it is known, is collected, it is crushed and contaminants removed. It is then mixed with raw materials to colour and/or enhance properties as necessary. It is then melted in a furnace and moulded or blown into new bottles or jars.

6. Paper At a paper mill, the paper is pulped in a tank containing chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, caustic soda, soap and water, which separate 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 flotation tank, the fibres are cleaned and de-inked several times, getting white and whiter each time, with the addition of whitening agents. The pulp, which is 99% water and 1% fibre, is then pumped onto a paper machine, where it is passed over a vibrator or through rollers, which remove much of the water. The water is recycled by being sent back to the beginning of the process. The sheets, 50/50 fibre and water, are passed through a drying section, where the temperature reaches 130°C. This process makes the paper whiter, smoother and more useable. The paper is then dried and run through a machine that acts like an ironing board and then wound into huge rolls that weigh up to 30 tonnes. After tests to make sure it is the correct standard and quality, the rolls are divided into smaller reels or sheets, packed and stored before despatching to printers.

It should be noted that in the Kettering Borough collection area, we are asked to separate our paper from the rest of the recyclable items, and leave it out in the red box.

Recycle plastics6. Plastic A recent study demonstrated that mixed plastic packaging (trays, tubs, pots, films etc) can be mechanically recycled and is both economically and environmentally effective to do so.  It is hoped that the UK will have the comprehensive infrastructure for the reprocessing of these resources in the near future. In the meantime, plastics are sorted, then either melted, where it is moulded into a new shape or shredded into flakes, then melted down before being processed into granulates.

So that’s sorted then?

    1 Comment

    1. John Padwick

      Mon 12th Aug 2013 at 8:42 am

      My understanding after challenging the KBC scheme about this is that paper is recycled separately as it is more profitable in this way, and that food waste should not be placed in the blue bin but in the black bin for landfill. Nothing that comes out of the kitchen – including potato peelings – is now for recycling due to the dangers of cross-contamination. Different Local Authorities may do things in different ways, but I think that’s the gist of the way things work in Kettering.


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