Recycling: Where does it all go?
They are some of the common casualties of a throwaway society that is now inching towards a sustainable future.
But as more and more residents champion recycling, few will give a second thought to exactly what happens to their recycled waste.
The move to fortnightly bin collections last September was designed to encourage even greater levels of recycling heaping pressure on residents to get with the programme or ultimately face a £50 spot fine for excess waste.
Campbell Clark, a senior recycling advisor at Edinburgh City Council, said biodegradable waste could be removed from landfill altogether and hails the “feel-good factor” as a spur to recycle.
Residents still have questions over the process, he said – some of those straying into the bizarre.
“We have had people phone up and ask how they can recycle the dead mouse their cat has brought in or foxes that have died on the road,” he said.
“And people are frequently dropping things into recycling banks they wish they hadn’t like car keys, purses, engagement rings and we even had visa documents fall in there.”
As reduced collections bed in people will grow accustomed to recycling, said Mr Clark. The city has already notched up 37 per cent of all household waste being reused.
Rolling out colour-coded bins for salvageable trash, in tandem with designated recycling points at supermarkets, means 80,000 tonnes has been diverted from the dump this year – a potential £8 million saving for the public through avoidance of landfill tax and disposal costs.
And with plans to expand food waste collections to high-density housing, environment chiefs forecast that up to 50 per cent of the city’s rubbish will soon be recycled.
So for those intrigued to learn where their discarded papers and jam-jars end up, the News has traced the journey and final destination of thousands of tonnes of Capital’s refuse.
Taken from black bins at the doorstep, food scraps are transported to a Scottish Water depot at Cumbernauld and turned into liquid fertiliser and compost. The process emits a useful biogas which can be converted into energy.
Cut-grass, tree branches and other vegetation hacked down from gardens across the city takes a short tip to Braehead, where shredders slice and dice the greenery into piles called windrows, which are allowed to compost before being sold to the public as soil improver.
What about those work shirts that shrunk in the wash, or old school clothes that no longer fit growing adolescents? Textiles from blue boxes can take a rather exotic journey to developing countries across the world – once they are sorted at I&G Cohen in Salford.
Reusable materials – around 70 tonnes per year – are exported to Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia with the rest broken down into fibres or industrial wipes, some of which is processed into mattress stuffing.
Charities including the national Blind Children’s Association, The World Cancer Research Fund and Christie Manchester Hospital have benefitted from this unwanted clothing while I&G has donated more than £1m to good causes since being in business.
It used to be tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper, but now paper collected from the blue bag is carted off to a mill in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, where it gets a new lease of life back on shop shelves as newspaper.
The Evening News is just one of the many publications that benefit from this recycling process. More than 5,500 tonnes of paper makes the 315-mile trek south each year. Contents of Blue and Red boxes – mostly glass and tins – has been contracted out to Palm Recycling and is sorted by hand into different compartments in the collection truck. It arrives at a transfer station to be stored before delivered to several re-processors.
Some 4,720 tonnes of glass – separated into containers for clear, green and amber – are transported to West Yorkshire per annum and will reappear in the supermarket as bottles and jars while around 119 tonnes of aluminium cans head to Warrington, Cheshire.
Household batteries, one of the newest items included in the recycling process, are delivered to a G&P Batteries in the West Midlands, where components are extracted and put to use in the steel industry or other in other industrial applications.
The council suggests it is hamstrung by a lack of Scottish recycling plants and must distribute it elsewhere. It claims the value of recycling far outweighs the “small environmental cost” of transportation.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, below, the city’s environment convener, said: “Our biggest frustration is items that you can’t recycle. Plastic wrappers from products in supermarkets can be a problem so what is needed is some joined up thinking with that and working alongside supermarkets.”
Cllr Hinds said uplifting the different boxes all in one day was being considered as an option to make recycling easier for residents while bringing more recycling in-house was also an option.
Where once it was deemed an albatross – particularly to council funds – rubbish has become a resource for the many firms generating revenue.
Barry Falgate, area landfill manager for Viridor in Dunbar, said: “Waste is changing. That’s why our investment in recycling and recovery facilities will continue to mean less of the waste you and I produce will end up in landfill.
“Just as recycling has been a great Scottish success story – with Viridor recycling enough glass to fill 530 lorries from council bottle banks last year, and over 39,000 tellies from the Capital alone, the volume of waste sent to landfill continues to fall. What’s different too is the type of waste. We’re seeing less food in the waste and less plastic which is a good thing.
“What’s changed over recent years is that we’re now transforming waste into resources and renewable power. Landfill has played an important role, and in the early days pioneered renewable energy through landfill gas. But times change and technology changes and that’s no bad thing.”
Environment committee vice-convener Jim Orr, said: “All over Edinburgh we’re finding families are recycling more and more as people realise that it is the responsible thing to do and the council are working hard to support them.
“People know we need to have a modern, sustainable attitude to waste disposal.
“Often children are the experts in the home as they find out all about recycling at school under the ecoschools programme and then they teach their parents. In an era of austerity, people know that we must all treat waste as cost-effectively as possible and the best way to do that is to think: reduce, reuse, recycle.”