Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham


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Police stand by whilst a man is eaten by a large compost heap

People’s Day 2014 and the Green Police were out in force again arresting anyone they caught not recycling and dealing with their waste properly. Many people came to see the recycling stall near the bandstand in Mountsfield Park on what was a lovely summers day and took away the odd freebie (spaghetti and rice measurers, pens, pencils, rulers, cotton shopping bags etc.) or just some information they were after.

Joining forces with Lewisham police to fight the war on waste

Joining forces with Lewisham police to fight the war on waste

Over 150 people visited the recycling stall which also benefitted from being situated right next to the man eating compost heap called Compost Mentis. This was a small theatrical performance by 3 actors which served to highlight the benefits of composting whose star performer was a huge compost heap that comes to life and eventually devours the disgruntled gardener who seems to spend his time in the garden getting annoyed.

Dave Bowman from Bywaters (right) with Kate and Dave from our recycling team

Dave Bowman from Bywaters (left) with Kate and Dave from our recycling team

The Compost Mentis performance drew quite a healthy crowd and children in particular were mesmerised by the large compost heap gulping down the gardener and letting out a mighty burp at the end. For those that weren’t able to see the performance, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQuDKLHNRXo

A disgruntled gardener has a closer look at the large compost heap

A disgruntled gardener has a closer look at the large compost heap

This year like last year, the Green Police aka Lewisham’s Recycling Team were joined by a new recruit from Bywaters, the company that takes all of the recyclables that are collected in the recycling bins across the borough. Dave Bowman (Recycling Quality and Tipping Relations Manager) was on hand to answer all those tricky questions posed by residents regarding what happens after all those tins, cans, bottles, cardboard, paper and beverage cartons are tipped into the back of a recycling vehicle. It was very useful having him there as there were quite a few residents that were intent on grilling him and finding out all about the sorting and separating processes.

The gardener is devoured  by the large compost heap and shocking all the onlookers

The gardener is devoured by the large compost heap and shocking all the onlookers

Overall, a very productive day for the team and hopefully all the questions that were asked were answered satisfactorily. Everyone liked the Love Food Hate Waste freebies that were given away. We also promoted the Love Food Hate Waste website which is a very useful resource and covers all aspects of food including recipes and how to store food correctly. For those who are not familiar, please see the following link: http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/


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Sir Vivor bag textile trial hits parts of the borough with a £100 prize on offer

In a joint partnership project with our textile and recycling contractor, Lewisham Council are trialing the collection of textiles using what is being called the Sir Vivor bag. Unlike other collections that utilise ordinary sacks that are just left on the doorstep for collectors to take, this one tries a whole different way to recover those textiles in the best condition it can.

Fill the Sir Vivor bags with your unwanted textiles and then place the bag/s in your recycling bin.

Fill the Sir Vivor bags with your unwanted textiles and then place the bag/s in your recycling bin.

Residents are probably used to the idea of putting textiles in their recycling bins at the moment and whilst this is an OK method of collection, there are quality issues to think about. We also encourage residents to think about using charity shops and dedicated textile banks first before putting their textiles in the recycling bin loose.

Putting items in loose does leave them vulnerable to damage and being soiled as they enter the compactor and then are tipped at the other end with all the cans, bottles, cardboard, plastic bottles and juice cartons. With this survival bag, the air is compressed out during compaction and the thicker plastic sacks protect the items inside until its tipped and recovered at the materials recovery facility (MRF) in Bow, East London.

The scheme is being trialed in parts of Grove Park, Lower Sydenham, Bellingham, Crofton Park, Forest Hill, Catford South, Hither Green, Brockley, Blackheath and Ladywell. For those properties that fall in the trial zone, you will be receiving a couple of the Sir Vivor bags with a leaflet (see above). This details what can and cannot go into the sacks and there will also be an opportunity for those that submit some feedback to have a chance of winning £100 worth of vouchers.

Full bags should be left in your recycling bin (preferably at the bottom)

Full bags will find their way to LMB Textiles via the Bywaters materials recovery facility.

The full sacks go into your recycling bin (preferably at the bottom where it can’t be seen) and then you use your recycling bin as normal.  After collection, the bags will go to our textile contractor LMB Textiles http://www.lmb.co.uk/ where they will be reused and recycled.


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So what happens at the MRF? We ask a member of staff….

Unless you work in the industry, there’s probably no reason why you’d give your recycling or the recycling industry a second thought once you carry it out to the bin.

It’s hard to grasp the enormity of the recycling industry, not just the amount of recycling collected within Lewisham, but the workforce behind it.

To get a feel for it we took a visit to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF – or we like to say “Murf”). This is where all Lewisham’s recycling ends up and we met a few people who have worked there since recycling evolved in the UK.

29 years ago recycling in the UK was very different. Paul Pavett who’s worked at the MRF for all of these years describes how it used to be.

“The industry’s expanded so much since I first started out 29 years ago and we’ve relocated 3 times in that time. Back in the day, we would get just 6 or 7 lorry loads a day to the site which was just really a waste transfer station. So most of the stuff coming in was just rubbish, but we’d pull out the scrap metal and cardboard by hand, and then dump the rest into landfill.

Paul Pavett who's worked at Bywaters for 29 years and operates the grab amongst other machinery.

Paul Pavett who’s worked in the business for 29 years and operates the grab amongst other machinery.

Our second site was bigger and a MRF was fitted in, which primarily sorted out demolition waste where we’d pull out the metals, woods and anything of value, so there was a few more materials than cardboard but it was nothing like the sophistication of today.

We were situated on the Olympic site, so we ended up having to move to where we are now. This was a major opportunity to put in a state of the art MRF and expand recycling to what it is today. Now we recycle a vast amount of things from plastics, glass, textiles, metals and cartons as well as different grades of paper and cardboard. Once the machinery was fitted, everything just took off. That happened around 2008.”

Confidential waste is shredded and baled ready for reprocessing.

Confidential waste is shredded and baled ready for reprocessing.

Took off indeed! The MRF now employs over 400 staff, with people working within a wide range of skills.

Paul has worked his way up throughout the years and has gone from sweeping up cardboard in the early days to the mechanics team where he manages and operates machinery such as forklifts, excavators and loading shovels and has qualifications in first aid and fire marshalling.

In addition to the mechanics team, who ensure the sophisticated machinery is operating continuously, there are a whole variety of other teams, like drivers, environmental consultants and the financial team who look after 3,000 customers ranging from small businesses to local authorities. And very importantly there’s the people who work on the manual picking lines who are crucial to ensuring that your recycling is a quality marketable product.

This final product is your recycling separated into bales, such as a bale of aluminium cans, or a bale of paper. It’s important for these bales to contain as close to 100% of the intended material as possible, or else it would be difficult to on sell to the reprocessing plants.

A nice clean bale of cans.

A nice clean bale of aluminium cans.

Unfortunately some residents contaminate their recycling with things that could damage machinery, be dangerous to people or simply devalue the recycling product.  Food and garden waste that’s contaminated recycling can spread throughout the load contaminating much more than just one bin’s worth of recycling. Nappies can do the same and are extremely unpleasant for the staff to remove from the line.

It’s those people on the manual picking lines who contend with these problems every day. An initial hand pick is done to remove any noticeable contaminants before it’s scooped up for the machine sorting process. Even though the mechanical sorting process is highly sophisticated, separating card from paper, plastics from metals and so on, this process still requires a final quality check and removal of any nastiness that may have been missed in the other processes.

Pickers see all sorts including food and garden waste and also nappies which shouldn't be in there.

Pickers see food and garden waste and also nappies which shouldn’t be in there.

As Paul mentioned when being interviewed for this story, it’s amazing how over the last 20 or 30 years how recycling has expanded, even boomed and his message to everyone is to keep up the great work, but please keep things like food, garden and nappy waste out of the recycling process and recycle only those things that can be recycled.


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Taking a closer look at contamination of recycling bins

Lewisham Council’s operations team, all the team members involved in waste education, the contracts manager looking after the Bywaters contract and the Strategic Waste Manager are always looking for ways to tackle the issue of contamination within the recycling bins in the borough.

Before we go into the role we want residents to play in helping the Council tackle the issue of contamination, let’s start by looking more closely at what contamination actually means. When we say that a bin has been contaminated, we mean that there are items in the recycling bin that really should not be in there and which the materials recovery facility (Bywaters) do not actually want.

We recently put a sticker on every 240 litre recycling wheelie bin across the entire borough clearly stating what can go into the bin. The sticker uses photographs, symbols and text to illustrate what we want our residents to do when it comes to using the recycling bins correctly.

Putting the correct materials in the recycling bin will help us tackle the contamination issue.

As well as a sticker, the Council have also produced a small booklet which was distributed to all kerbside properties. Like the sticker, it gave clear instructions about what can go into the recycling bin and what happens to the recycling after the crews empty the bins.

We have also put information on to our recycling vehicles, in the Lewisham Life magazine, on the Council’s website as well as this blog. We’ve sent out press releases and used JC Decaux signs to spread the message further and also used Twitter to highlight the issue to around 900 followers.

Our recycling crews are also helping us by identifying offending recycling bins, putting a red tag on them and then letting us know so that we can write to the residents concerned in a bid to work together to tackle this issue. We then write to a resident 3 times if they are persistently contaminating the bin and on the 4th time will explain that we are taking the recycling bin away. We need to do this to stop the contamination.

But, despite all these measures, we’re still not quite on top of the issue. Our crews are still coming across bins that are filled with garden waste or worse still, food waste. Food waste causes problems as it smells, it’s usually wet and will spread to other materials when compacted in the vehicles. Cardboard and paper covered in food waste understandably affects the quality of the material and ultimately the value and price of it.

Blacks sacks are still being seen in the recycling bins on a regular basis. Whilst plastic sacks on their own (providing they are empty and clean) are fine, many people are still putting full black sacks in the recycling bins. The problem with this is that our crews cannot tear them open or check every bag due to time and health and safety considerations and if the sacks do contain general refuse, we will again have quality issues with the materials.

Bywaters recently showed us some images from one of our loads that contained a lots of polystyrene. This is another material that cannot be recycled and doesn’t belong in the recycling bin. If people do have lots of polystyrene, then simply put this into your domestic refuse bin where it will be incinerated at the South East London Combined Heat and Power plant (SELCHP) in New Cross. Some people might think they are doing the right thing and that a home or market will be sought at the recycling plant for this material, but this is not the case. It will be flagged up as a problem load, the offending material will then need to be removed and subsequently transported for disposal with the costs being passed on to us. This applies to many materials that we find in the recycling bins.

After Bywaters have sorted and separated the materials, they are sold to reprocessors. Prices for these materials vary depending on current market conditions. Good quality, clean materials will be more readily accepted and be sold much easier, poor quality contaminated materials won’t be.

Our message to our residents is to only put the items that are stated on the new bin stickers and follow the information in the new booklets that were distributed to kerbside properties. Residents on estates or flats will have received a similar booklet and an additional bag to help transport materials to their nearest recycling bins. For those with any doubts about what can go into the recycling bins (including clear sacks), please click on the following: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/wasterecycle/Pages/What-can-I-put-in-my-recycling-bin.aspx


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What happens to everything that goes into your recycling bin?

We do get a lot of enquiries about what happens to everything that goes into the recycling bins in Lewisham. Whilst we take great efforts to explain what happens to all the materials that go into the recycling bins, there are some people that aren’t convinced that a mechanised process can deal with sifting and sorting all of the different materials.

Of course its not an entirely mechanised process and there are whole lines of people who hand sort much of the materials as it first enters the materials recycling facility, also known as a MRF (pronounced merf).

We do organise tours around the MRF so that people can see all the processes first hand and we also direct people to our contractor Bywaters website where there is a video showing what happens to all the materials once they are tipped out of the recycling vehicles. Not everyone will do these things however so we thought we should put the video of the processes involved on our blog to make it a little more accessible.

Below is what happens to the contents of your recycling bin once it has been emptied.


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Visits to Bywaters and Closed Loop

On 16th December, 2011 a contingent from Lewisham Council visited our new dry recyclables contractor Bywaters (Leyton) Ltd. The contingent included the Mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock, Cabinet member for Customer Services, Cllr Susan Wise, Executive Director for Customer Services, Kevin Sheehan and members of staff from the recycling team.

From left to right: Michael Pusey (Bywaters), Kevin Sheehan, Executive Director for Customer Services (Lewisham), John Glover (MD Bywaters), Cllr Susan Wise, Mayor Steve Bullock and David Rumble (Bywaters)

 The visit to the materials recycling facility (MRF) was a chance for everyone to see what happens to the contents of the recycling bins when they are tipped by the Council’s collection vehicles at the east London plant.

 The tour of the MRF was conducted by David Rumble, Bywaters Strategic Development Manager who explained all the different procedures that the materials have to go through to separate everything into its component parts until the final baling process at the end. To ensure that the materials are of a premium quality and therefore command higher prices, Bywaters employ two separate teams of hand sorters who pick and sort from the fast moving conveyers all the items that shouldn’t be on that particular line. The removed materials are then added to another stream for that particular material where again they are collected in bulk and then baled.

View of part of the Bywaters materials recycling facility (MRF)

 Bywaters have been very pleased with what they have received so far from Lewisham. However, that doesn’t mean that we are by any means the perfect recycling borough and always need to be vigilant when it comes to keeping on top of any potential contamination. Bins that are contaminated with food or garden waste will cause big problems at the sorting process as it will be wet and will smell and so ruin any potential for any material that has been collected and stored with it to be recycled.

 We will be working more closely with Bywaters over the contract period to implement measures to improving much of what goes into the recycling bin and also to get more people involved in the process so that we can increase tonnages.

 After the Bywaters trip, the rest of the recycling team went on to visit Closed Loop http://www.closedlooprecycling.co.uk/ in Dagenham who receive plastic bottles from Bywaters. This was a very interesting tour and gave everyone the opportunity to see how all the plastic bottles are dealt with after leaving the MRF process. We witnessed how they were able to separate the lids from the plastic bottles using a tank. In flake form, they were able to separate them as one floated and the other sank. There was a huge emphasis on running all the flakes through as many cleaning processes as possible to make sure every last trace of metal was removed as a great deal of the flakes were destined for the dairy market and the production of new milk bottles.


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Boost for recycling as Lewisham chooses new contractor

Over the last few months, the Council have been involved in a lengthy tendering process to find a new contractor that will take and sort the comingled (mixed) recycling for the next 3 years. The process took several months and attracted a broad range of interest from contractors involved in recycling and waste management that were keen to work with the Council and to process and sell all of its mixed dry recyclables.

Residents have been asking us for some time now about collecting other materials in the recycling bins and green boxes. Materials such as mixed plastics (margarine tubs, yoghurt pots) and beverage cartons (Tetra Paks). This tendering process has enabled us to take those suggestions into consideration and include them in the tender documents.

Click to see full range of new materials for recycling in Lewisham

On October 5th 2011 the Mayor and Cabinet met and agreed to a new contractor taking over from the previous incumbent Veolia. The company that won the contract for the sale and sorting of mixed dry recyclables were Bywaters (Leyton) Ltd who are based in Bow, East London.

What this will mean for the residents of Lewisham is the chance to recycle more materials using their recycling bins, green boxes and in some cases clear recycling sacks. From December the 5th, residents will be able to recycle the usual items such as paper, cardboard, glass bottles, jars, cans and plastic bottles. In additional to this however, they will also be able to recycle liquid beverage cartons (aka Tetra Paks) and also mixed plastics (i.e. food containers, trays, cups, cling film, CD’s, meat trays, yoghurt pots, ice cream tubs, plastic tubs, party platters, bubble wrap, crisp packets, DVD cases, sandwich packs) – providing that they are clean of course. Empty aerosols are also accepted.

As well as these new materials that can be added to the recycling bins, the Council are also going to be receiving an income for the materials. This means that the more that is collected, the more income that will be generated for the Council. This income can then be used in other service areas.

With the collections starting on Monday, you will be able to start filling your recycling bins and boxes TODAY! in readiness for the new contract.

If you need any further information about the collections, please email recycle@lewisham.gov.uk or call 020 314 7171.