Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham

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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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Supermarkets can now take plastic film for recycling

One question we often get asked is about recycling carrier bags and film, at the moment in Lewisham we can’t currently accept this type of plastic in our kerbside collection.

However there is now another option – Supermarket stores which collect plastic bags for recycling will now accept clean plastic film packaging (such as bread bags and cereal liners) in the same facilities, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) announced on April 7.

Carrier bag banks can be found at more than 4,500 supermarkets. A new version of the on-pack label (See picture on the right) will appear on relevant packaging to encourage customers to dispose of it in this way.

The thin plastic, also used around multipacks of cans and household goods such as toilet roll, makes up 43% of all plastic household packaging and weighs a total of 645,000 tonnes every year. By comparison, plastic bottles account for 32%, or 480,000 tonnes. Thin plastic film is fully recyclable but until now most people have had no means of recycling it.

We’ve done a quick bit of research in Lewisham and the supermarkets which have facilities for you to dispose of plastic bags …and now plastic film are:

  • Tesco, Lewisham
  • Sainsburys, Lewisham Shopping Centre
  • Sainsburys, New Cross
  • Tesco, Catford
  • Co-op, Downham
  • Sainsburys, Forest Hill
  • Sainsburys, Sydenham SavaCentre
  • Sainsburys, Lee Green

You can find all of the locations on our recycling map – look for the yellow carrier bags.

The recycling points are all located in the stores as opposed to outside (with the textile banks etc) and are usually behind the check-out. There is a picture of a couple of typical ones below – if in doubt ask a member of staff.


Why can’t I recycle ….

A question we often get asked as recycling officers is “Why can’t I recycle certain items?”  

In this posting I’m going to explain why we can’t recycle a couple of items that we most commonly get asked about – and what the alternative uses are for these items.    

An example of "mixed plastics"


Mixed Plastics
There are a couple of reasons why we can’t recycle mixed plastics:    

1. Our contractor (Veolia), who sorts and separates all the recyclable material for Lewisham Council stipulate that they want plastic bottles only.    

2. There is a very limited market or demand for this kind of material, as it is of a poorer quality than the plastics used to make plastic bottles.    

3. A small amount of mixed plastics are made out of the similar plastic to plastic bottles. But it is difficult for our collection crews to then identify if they cannot be recycled, as they would have to look for numbers on the bottom of all plastic packaging.    

By just accepting plastic bottles we make sure we receive the best quality plastic –  and it makes it easier for residents to identify what can be recycled.    


We are still working with Veolia to find a consistent and stable market for mixed plastics. As soon as we do, we’ll let you know and start collecting them. We want to be able to collect as many materials as possible!    

You can recycle mixed plastics at the Sainsburys in New Cross and at the Sava Centre in Sydenham, where they have specific mixed plastic bins. Alternatively you could make plastic dogs!   

Shredded Paper    

The problem with recycling shredded paper is that the Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) that we use uses automatic sorting equipment to sort through the vast amount of recycling.     

The machine recognises many different types of material, but has difficulty distinguishing small or shredded paper.  Because of the numerous processes that the material goes through, shredded paper often gets mixed up with crushed glass. This affects the quality of the glass which is produced as a result of this process. Shredded paper can also cause problems by jamming the machinery in the plant.    

Shredded paper is great to use in your home composting bin as well as for animal litter. Alternatively you could make furniture from shredded paper you have hanging around …    


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What happens to my recycling?

This is a question that we often get asked, some people even ask if what they place in their green bins gets recycled at all!   Well the answer to this is … yes it does!

Lewisham use a method called “co-mingled collection” for our recycling services. This essentially means that as a resident you can place all of your recyclable materials (plastic bottles, cans & tins, paper & card, glass bottles & jars) into your green bin or box all mixed in together.

Other councils prefer to use a source segregated method of collection whereby residents are either asked to separate the materials into several different boxes (such as Bexley) or the operatives sort the materials into various compartments in the vehicle as part of the collection process (such as Hackney).

There is debate between authorities and academics as to which service provides the best value for money and the higher recycling yields, in Lewisham we believe that the service we provide makes recycling easy for residents and is both financially and environmentally the most sensible system. If you are interested in reading more about this debate, the most recent report published on the subject suggests that co-mingled collection produce higher recycling rates. Our Head of Environment, Nigel Tyrrell has also written an interesting piece on Lewisham’s Waste Strategy on local blog Brockley Central.

After all of the materials are collected using our recycling trucks they are taken to somewhere called a “Materials Recycling Facility” or MRF, here all of the materials are sorted and paled for further re-processing. The video below gives a simplified explanation of how this happens. Please excuse the cheesy American accent and remember that although the technology in our own MRF may be slightly different the general idea is the same.

If you are interested in having a 360 degree tour of the actual facility where we take our materials to in Greenwich you can do so here.

Hopefully this will help explain exactly what happens to your recycling once you put it in your green bin, if you have any questions feel free to ask us …