Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Four Glass Jars

Have you ever wondered what happens to all that stuff you put into black bags every week, and leave at the edge of your property on a specific day of the week, and which miraculously disappears by the time you get home? Well these two (pictured) have all the answers. They are members the Redbridge Recycling team and Waste Watch, whom I met at the ‘Fun in the Park’ event last Saturday week (9th June).

As you know, we are part of the East London Waste Authority, which has two BioMRFs (that’s a Materials Recovery Facility), one at Frog Island in the Thames which takes all the black bags from Havering and Barking & Dagenham, and one at Jenkins Lane which takes Newham and Redbridge black bags.

What happens is that these BioMRFs sort all the materials and extract about 50-55% of it before it goes to landfill. So, only about half of ‘residual’ waste (what we don’t recycle or compost) goes to Landfill. This is called ‘Recovery’ and is not to be confused with recycling. There are strict rules about what the council is allowed to classify as recycling and which contribute to it’s government set targets. There is a small amount of recovered material, around 5% of the total, that can be called recycling but the rest is material recovered to be either composted or used, for example as a fuel in industrial kilns. So if you’re thinking there’s no point in recycling if the stuff gets recovered anyway you’re wrong. Clean, uncontaminated recycling is far more saleable and usable.

Anyway, all this recovered material goes through a number of processes to be sorted into different grades, and stored in Glass Jars as pictured below.

The first process picks out all the ferrous metal. Rusty nails, beer bottle tops, cans, bits of old pipework or plumbing, broken cutlery, old keyrings, tools etc. The metal you can’t put in your recycle bin – but I doubt it would run to an old lawnmower – sorry Coxsoft.

The second one picks out glass and stones (yes, stones get put in black bags). This includes ceramics, broken cups, saucers, plates as well as broken glass. This gets used as aggregate in road construction.

The third grade of material is the 0-8mm Fraction. What is that you ask? Good question. It’s ‘compostable fines’. This will include any organic material that is composted wherever possible. That’ll be food like vegetable peelings from those naughty people who do not have a compost bin and/or wormery plus some green waste and paper/cardboard.

The fourth and last one is Solid Recovered Fuel. This is made up of materials such as unrecyclable plastics, paper, cardboard and wood. This gets used as fuel in industrial processes such as cement kilns as the name implies.

The remaining waste is sent to landfill, but as it has first been shredded and treated, with all the useful material taken out, and because we already separate much of our waste for recycling, only about 25% of the waste we produce in Redbridge is sent to landfill.

So, there you are. Now you know.

I must arrange another group visit to the BioMRF.


  1. Aw, not fair. I've also got 3 old TVs and a PC monitor. The place is filling up, but I'm not paying the council to take this stuff away. It's a matter of principle. If the council wants to recycle it, they can take it, but for free.

    One other thing, we have to separate all our bottles, tins and plastics in bags in the mixed bin. So why do the waste disposal opperatives throw them all into the "mixed" space in the dust cart? Nothing like duplication of effort to keep costs high!

    1. Coxsoft
      1) TVs and Monitors are covered by the WEEE directive. Section 5.4 clause 9 states that you need a car owning neighbour who is going to the tip ...
      2) I am not aware of any requirement by Redbridge council to separate glass jars, plastic bottles or tins can in our recycling box. Where did you get this from?

  2. The old rag man who used to come round the streets gave us a (pre-1971) penny for each jam jar we took to him. Perhaps there's a lesson in that for the modern recycling lobby.

  3. I do remember that visit organised by Barkingside21 to a depot where they were sorting out recyclables. It was interesting in a way but frustrating too because what we were observing was only step one of the process and, really, this is not a very challenging task. Somebody has to do it and I felt sorry for the people who worked day in day out in this slightly smelly environment.
    However, I also remember our environment friendly B21 commenting on the ludicrous variety of wrapping materials. Why are manufacturers/ packers still using: 'we do not currently recycle this material', so that a clean piece of plastic goes in the general bin rather than in the black box?