SPECIAL REPORT: Do you really know what should go in your recycling bag?
Like most people, I diligently make sure I separate my recycling each week.
I’ve listened to the messages that containers have to be cleaned out and make sure I wash them well.
But despite my efforts - am I doing it right?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it a bit of a minefield. Do I need to remove the tops of plastic bottles before I bin them? Do the tops or just the bottles go in recycling?
What about wrapping paper, black plastic food trays and empty toiletry bottles?
As part of recycling week, I met with South Holland District Council’s environmental services team and Coun Roger Gambba-Jones, who is both portfolio holder for Place, and also vice chairman of Lincolnshire Waste Partnership.
The main message they want to get across is that food waste, batteries and electrical items, nappies and sanitary products cannot be put into recycling.
But also at the meeting, it was discussed that some materials, such as yoghurt pots and margarine tubs, although listed on the district council’s green bags as accepted, are now not recyclable.
This is because the ‘recycling stream’ set by the industry changes over time, and what could once be recycled, no longer can due to changing materials used to make the items - and cost.
After the meeting, Coun Gambba-Jones told me: “We are always hearing that things are changing and you have to remind yourself this is not what we are telling the public.
“But we cannot keep changing the message to the public.”
So while yoghurt pots and margarine tubs are (at the moment) considered ‘non-recyclables’ the district council will continue to accept them.
Coun Gambba-Jones said they will be removed for waste at the recycling plant in Caythorpe, operated by Mid UK Recycling Ltd, which also has the technology to turn waste into energy.
“A simple message we have said to people over and over again is you have got to wash it (a container) out but then you get the push-back about the energy used with water etc.
“But if that is the issue we would rather you do not do half a job. If it is not clean then put it in a black bag.
“We are always hearing that things are changing and you have to remind yourself this is not what we are telling the public. But we cannot keep changing the message to the public.”
“Food waste is a real bogey in recycling.
“If somebody has a takeaway for a family of six and everybody leaves a little bit of food - Chinese, Indian or whatever and that goes into your recycling vehicle which can have anything from 6-8 tonnes as a full load and that rolls out into everything it can contaminate the other recycling.”
Sanitary products and nappies are also contaminates for obvious reasons and batteries have been linked with causing fires at recycling plants.
Batteries cannot be put in the black bags either, also due to the fire risk, and should be disposed of responsibly. Some supermarkets have battery recycling points, as does the household waste recycling centre on West Marsh Road in Spalding.
About 25 per cent of recycling in Lincolnshire cannot be recycled due to contamination - which equals about one in four trucks of waste.
And tackling food waste is a topic high on the agenda for the district council.
The government is putting together a strategy to reduce food waste going to landfill by the year 2025.
Lincolnshire Waste Partnership is trialling a food waste collection service in South Kesteven, which Coun Gambba-Jones says is something we could see in the district in the future, subject to how the trial goes.
It sees the waste broken down using anaerobic digestion involving micro-organisms. A bio-gas is then created which can be used to generate electricity, heat or transport fuels.
The hope is that the financial rewards of the scheme will be fed back into the county, although the cost will initially hit taxpayers.
I also learnt that the waste we put in our black bags is not sent to landfill. All but around 5% goes to an energy from waste centre in North Hykeham where it is converted into electricity. This is then fed back into the national grid.
It’s worth pointing out that the green recycling bags cannot themselves be recycled but wheelie bins are unlikely to be introduced at this time.
“In simple terms wheelie bins will lead to fortnightly collections because they are inherently more difficult to collect,” said Coun Gambba-Jones.
“The only way to make it cost effective is to do it every other week and we will lose a payload. It could cost 50 per cent more to the taxpayer.”
Coun Eddy Poll, Chairman of Lincolnshire Waste Partnership (LWP), added: “All the councils in the LWP recognise that the recycling system can be confusing.
“We’re focusing on trying to keep out the most dangerous and contaminating items from recycling collections, so members of the public can help us by making sure batteries, electrical items, food waste, nappies and sanitary items are not put in their recycling.
“We’re hoping that in the future we will be able to put a more consistent system in place where the same items can be collected and disposed of, and the new waste strategy for Lincolnshire includes an aim to move towards a common set of recycling materials across the county.”
Common contaminates are: Toys, CDs, DVDs, videos, handbags/sports bags, crisp packets, pet food pouches, electric cabling, glittery wrapping paper , wood, Pyrex and other cooking dishes, polystyrene, pizza boxes (as grease remains behind) and broken glass that can damage machinery at the recycling plant.
A full list can be found on the district council’s website at www.sholland.gov.uk/article/5810/Recycling-Guide
The basic message is ‘if in doubt, leave it out.’