Recycle for Lewisham

A blog written for residents of Lewisham


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 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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World Water Day … a day late

This week is climate week and yesterday was world water day but because I’m a little bit slow (and was out of the office), our blog posting about it is today – but never mind because the message is just as pertinent as it was yesterday….

Water is a precious resource and should be used wisely at all times because it’s not as abundant as you might think.  Using water, especially hot water, also uses energy and increases emissions of greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

DID YOU KNOW – The average person in England and Wales uses 150 litres of water a day – imagine 264 pints of milk and that’s 150 litres of water.  By 2020, with increasing population and housing growth the demand for water could increase by 5% – that’s 800 million extra litres of water a day.

Visit the Act on CO2 website for lots of useful hints and tips on how you can reduce your water consumption.

As well as reducing your water consumption you might want to think about switching from bottled water to reusing a bottle and simply utilising the tap water that you already pay for….

  • Bottled water generates up to 600 times more CO2 than tap water
  • New research shows that drinking a bottle of water has the same impact on the environment as driving a car for a kilometre
  • There’s enough oil used in the production process of water bottles in the UK to keep 17,000 cars on the road for a year

You can come along to see the waste and recycling team at Sydenham Sainsburys tomorrow to pick up a free reusable water bottle and plenty of other hints and tips, including how to “love food and hate waste”.

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Plastic bottle tops!

I’ve just been sent this useful tip for re-using the lids from plastic bottles – it saves them from going in your recycling (where they can be a bit of a pain) and gives them another life, it will also save you from having to buy bag clips ….

Make an incision and using a pair of scissors cut the plastic bottle RIGHT AT the NECK.

Stick the plastic bag through the NECK of the bottle which you have just cut off. 

Screw cap back on for a perfect seal!

Clever hey!


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 …