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Where does our recycling go?

posted 22 Sep 2010, 00:39 by Heather Rogers

What happens to our recycling once it gets collected from outside our houses?  How does it get processed, who does it and how does it turn into the recycled stuff we all buy? 


To coincide with the rollout of the new blue bins in Rudgwick, Sustainable Rudgwick organised a visit to the recycling plant at Ford, near Arundel. Here our lovely guide, Jen, gave us jackets and ear defenders, showed off the miles of conveyer belts, and answered all our questions.


Our recycling gets taken to a huge unit in the middle of fields. It’s called a Materials Recycling Facility or MRF. It’s only been open a year, and is state-of-the-art: they’re doing things with our rubbish that aren’t possible in many parts of the country.


Amazingly, most of the separation of our mixed recyclables is fully automated. Early in the process everything goes into a big drum with various sizes of holes, which shakes the rubbish until the right things come out of the right holes. This largely separates the paper, plastics, metals and glass.


Four different conveyer belts take the separated materials. The paper and card cascades in a huge, endless waterfall into hoppers, where it is baled ready for further processing. The metals go through very clever units that attract the steel and repel the aluminium. The plastic goes through light boxes where the recyclable plastics (PET and HDPE) are rapidly sorted from the rest. 


What does it all get turned into? We were shown a pot of beautiful powdered glass, used for resurfacing the M1. Aluminium generally gets used for the same products that generated it in the first place. Paper gets turned into newspaper, toilet tissue or paperboard. Plastics become all kinds of things – pipes, bollards, non-food-grade bottles, and astonishingly, fleece jumpers.


Here’s some things we learnt about what to recycle:


  • Plastics:  they can only take bottles. Lids off, please, and thrown away. Don’t put anything else in as they can’t use it.


  • Try to make sure stuff’s clean when you put it in the bin.  By the time it gets to the MRF, an unwashed tuna tin will be pretty unpleasant. And no chip wrappers please!


  • Try to make sure stuff’s dry. Any liquids will combine with the newspaper to make papier mache, which sets like concrete in the machinery.


  • Don’t put shredded paper in your blue bin. It clogs the machinery and blows around the plant. Instead, stuff it in a cornflakes box and take it to the household waste centre collection point.


  • Don’t put video cassettes in the bin. When we visited, the conveyor belts were festooned with cassette tape like Christmas garlands. The machinery has to be closed down every day to remove this kind of waste.


If you’re interested in a future visit, or would just like to know more about Sustainable Rudgwick, contact us at