Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham


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Preventing contamination is important

The Recycling Team are continually trying to communicate to its residents about the importance of putting the right things into the recycling bins to prevent contamination. Make no mistake, recycling contamination is a major issue for the council.  When the wrong items such as food and garden waste get into the recycling bins, this not only affects the bin itself, but also the rest of the load when the wet food and garden waste along with its smell and capacity to soil everything is all compacted together in the recycling vehicle.

For those that want an idea of what compacted recycling looks like when it reaches the Viridor materials recycling facility (MRF), please see the short video clip below. This is what typically happens every day when Lewisham’s recycling vehicles reach capacity and then need to tip.

Now, if you can imagine having items in the load with a large moisture and smell content (food and garden waste for example), this will spread during the compaction process. When this happens, Viridor, the contractor that sorts and separates the collected materials, will simply see the load as spoiled and look at disposing of it via incineration as a lot of the value is lost when paper and cardboard becomes unusable and valueless. When this occurs, the council are left to pick up the additional costs that are associated with disposing of the contaminated loads elsewhere.

We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to put dry, clean and correct items into the recycling bin which will ensure everything is recycled and no additional costs are generated for the council.

 


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Why can’t I put nappies in my recycling bin?

For those that have had the opportunity to visit a materials recycling facility and seen the people that stand next to the conveyor belt picking off contaminated items to improve the quality of the material, they will be aware that these people doing the picking also have to deal with disposable nappies  – which isn’t very pleasant.

As part of our series of using infomercials to get the recycling message across, this week we focus on the problems of putting disposable nappies in the recycling bin. Take it away…….


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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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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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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 …