By South Holland District Council’s waste and recycling officer Laura Simpkins
Have you ever wondered what happens to the waste that you put out for recycling after it has been collected?
This week, the process of what happens to waste going through the materials recycling facility is explained in a step-by-step guide.
1. Green bags full of recycling are left out for collection by households across South Holland and these are collected in a large compaction vehicle.
2. The waste is initially taken to a transfer station where all the recycling bags are emptied into a large shed. Each day large articulated lorries, which can carry the equivalent of 100 cars in weight, collect the bags and take them to the materials recycling facility.
3. All the materials are tipped onto the floor ready to be sorted before being loaded into a bag splitter machine where sharp blades rip the bags open.
4. The waste travels on a conveyor belt to a sorting cabin where items that can’t be recycled – like nappies and food – are picked out by hand. Carrier bags and plastic film are also removed by a large vacuum.
5. The materials then pass over a bumpy conveyor belt which shakes the waste and separates items into different sizes, a process called screening. Each material goes onto a different conveyor belt, with some items needing further sorting.
6. Larger items, such as paper and card, are sorted again in case any flat plastic bottles or metal cans have accidentally been sorted onto this conveyor belt.
7. On the metal conveyor belt giant magnets separate steel items from aluminium. Magnets are used here because steel is magnetic whereas aluminium isn’t.
8. Meanwhile plastic materials go through an ‘optical sorter’ on a separate conveyor belt, which identifies different thicknesses of plastic. Air is blown at the plastics which push them into different piles.
9. Materials which haven’t been identified by the different conveyor belts go through another sorting cabin where any contaminated items are sent.
10. All of the sorted materials are then squashed together into bails to make them easier to transport.
11. Finally, the bailed materials are sold to other firms who recycle them into new items.
It is really important that the right things are put into recycling bags as it is an unpleasant task to remove contaminated materials by hand. Please also remember to make sure there is no food waste in your green bags by checking that your recycling is clean before you put it in the bag.