BLOG – Recycling: it’s worth it

Graphic of numerous products being placed in recycling containers

Recycling is the process of turning materials into new items. Recycling is part of the waste management hierarchy which provides a structure for minimising how much waste ends up in landfill sites.

Recycling often involves collecting used items and processing them to clean and separate the component materials. The separate materials can then be used for a whole range of purposes: plastic bottles can come back to life as clothing; aluminium cans turn up in aeroplane parts; paper yoghurt pots can transform into toothbrushes.

This National Recycling Week (25 September – 1 October), we want to tell you why we believe passionately that recycling is worth it.

Save energy

Manufacturing new items uses a large amount of energy. Recycling requires much less. For example, forming new aluminium from bauxite ore needs much more energy than creating items from aluminium that has already been made. Every tonne of aluminium that we recycle saves 210kWh of electricity and 2.5 million BTUs (British Thermal Units) of energy. Some recycled materials, such as paper, are even more energy efficient. For every tonne of paper we recycle, we save 1845kWh hours of electricity and 24 million BTUs of energy.

Producing energy creates pollutants that usually end up in our atmosphere in the form of CO2 and other – sometimes more toxic – gases that contribute to global warming. Because recycling uses less energy than making new materials, it also means less pollution is produced. For example, by recycling one tonne of paper instead of making new paper, we prevent 12kg of pollutants entering the atmosphere.

Protect our environment

Recycling materials reduces the likelihood that they will end up in our environment where they cause harm. There are 9 billion tonnes of plastic in the world and more than 8 million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans every year. Plastic litter not only looks unsightly, but it can harm – and even kill – wildlife when it is swallowed or creatures become trapped. Items such as bottles, fishing nets and even the micro beads in your face wash can all end up in the sea.

By collecting our waste for recycling, we can help to ensure that is it handled responsibly and not allowed to make its way into our environment.

Prolong scarce resources

Many of the materials we use in manufacturing are from natural sources and so are in limited supply. Raw materials such as oil and metal ores will not last forever. One day they will run out because nature cannot form them as fast as we use them.

Recycling makes use of materials that have already been manufactured, which greatly reduces our reliance on these precious resources. For example, every tonne of recycled plastic saves 4 barrels of oil compared to manufacturing new plastics. Oil and other fossil fuels are also used to produce energy. Since recycling uses less energy than making new materials, it saves even more natural resources.

Preserve our planet

All of the benefits that recycling offers are crucial to help preserve our environment. By prolonging the availability of natural resources, reducing pollution and protecting wildlife, we can preserve our planet for future generations.

If we all do our little bit to recycle the things we use, we can make a big collective difference. We hope you agree that recycling is the right thing to do – and it’s worth it.

BLOG – Waste to Energy: how it compares to recycling

Waste to Energy (WtE) has seen a surge in popularity in the UK and internationally in recent years as a way of bridging the gap between recycling and landfill. Once materials that can be recycled have been removed from the waste stream, WtE provides a further way to process the remaining waste instead of directing it straight to landfill. While Devon Contract Waste supports any initiative that reduces the amount of waste reaching landfill, we believe it’s important to look at the total impact of WtE and how it compares to recycling.

Where WtE comes in

Under the EU Waste Framework Directive the UK must apply the waste hierarchy:

  • Reduce – cut down on the amount of waste we produce
  • Re-use – use items more than once whenever possible
  • Recycle – process waste items into re-useable materials
  • Recover – waste contains energy that can be unlocked and used
  • Dispose – final remaining waste is usually sent to landfill

Devon Contract Waste operates at the Recycle stage – sorting and processing waste materials into separate streams that can be re-used. WtE is part of the Recovery stage of the hierarchy. WtE plants use waste as fuel, instead of fossil fuels, to heat water that produces steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity.

WtE is the final stage of our own Zero to Landfill process. Once all recyclables have been sorted for onward processing, around 42% of our collected waste is sent for incineration to generate energy. WtE plays an important role in waste management but we believe strongly that it should be our last resort in the management of waste and we should always aim to recycle more to reduce the amount of waste that will be burned.

High cost / low volume

WtE plants are complex facilities that are expensive to build compared to a recycling centre – or materials recovery facility (MRF). Exeter’s WtE plant was built to process 65,000 tonnes of waste per year at a cost of £45 million. A typical materials recovery facility (MRF) with a processing capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year would cost around £11 million and would generally recover around 58% of materials for recycling, before the remainder was processed for WtE. In terms of the capability of each process to divert waste from landfill, recycling materials is more economical, and more efficient.

Energy efficiency

The energy produced by WtE plants most commonly generates electricity for homes but cogeneration plants can also provide heat for nearby businesses. Each tonne of waste processed generates around 500kWh of electricity which is enough to power 15 average households for a day. However, depending on the materials being processed, it could be more energy efficient to recycle. For example, recycling one tonne of aluminium (instead of making it from raw materials) saves 14,000kWh – enough electricity to power those same 15 households for four weeks.

Impact on recycling rates

Ideally, before waste reaches a WtE plant, all recyclables should have been removed. Not only for the efficiency we outlined above, but because less carbon-rich recyclable material in the waste mix (eg cardboard, plastic, metals and wood) means less CO2 output when the waste is burned. Some argue that the presence of WtE plants may discourage recycling, particularly among domestic households. Increased levels of these carbon-rich materials in the WtE fuel will mean more CO2 emissions. The link between WtE facilities and recycling rates hasn’t been proven but it remains an important consideration in planning a waste programme.

Polluting outputs

WtE produces less CO2 compared to the equivalent production of new materials. It also avoids the release of methane – another greenhouse gas – that would otherwise seep from landfill sites. But the incineration of waste releases a great number of toxic gases and substances which must be tightly controlled. Acidic gases such as nitrogen oxide must be neutralised, and toxic mercury must be removed. WtE is also not 100% efficient at processing its fuel, producing a final ash deposit which is usually sent to landfill.

Sustainability in the UK

Only certain types of waste are suitable for WtE processing which means that the availability of this fuel is an important consideration in a WtE programme. With many WtE plants already operating in the UK, capacity is outstripping the available fuel. UK WtE plants are importing waste from other countries in order to remain sustainable. While this is clearly preferable to simply sending the waste to landfill in the country of origin, the carbon miles travelled by thousands of tonnes of waste rather defeats the object. Sweden, for instance, is importing around 800,000 tonnes of waste per year, generating enormous quantities of CO2. We don’t feel that the UK should be contributing to this when we have an opportunity to invest in better recycling.

What does the future hold?

There is no straightforward answer to striking the right balance between recycling and WtE. As long as we continue to produce waste that cannot be recycled, WtE provides an energy efficient alternative to landfill disposal, despite its downsides. What remains critical is ensuring that our national recycling effort is maximised to reprocess as many materials as we can, in turn ensuring WtE is as efficient as possible, and landfill sites are consigned to the history books.

Devon Contract Waste helps holiday park bridge the gap to Zero to Landfill

Paul Williamson stands by the entrance sign at Harford Bridge Holiday Park

Exeter-based Devon Contract Waste has secured a new contract worth circa £3,000 per year with Harford Bridge Park Ltd of Tavistock. The innovative waste management company now provides a full Zero to Landfill waste management service for the award-winning camping and touring park set in Dartmoor National Park.

As a holder of the gold standard David Bellamy Conservation Award for 18 years, Harford Bridge Park has a long-running commitment to responsible waste management. Now, with the services of Devon Contract Waste, the family-run business could see up to 98% of its waste diverted from landfill while enjoying incredible cost savings of around 40%. Devon Contract Waste collects mixed waste from Harford Bridge Park to be baled at its newly launched Distribution Hub in Exeter, which can handle 300,000 tonnes of waste each year.

A particular challenge for Devon Contract Waste presented by Harford Bridge Park is the influence of park guests over the sorting of site waste as they dispose of their daily and weekly rubbish. Mixed waste contaminated with food and glass cannot be sorted as efficiently, meaning that a reduced amount of waste can be diverted from landfill. So, while holidaymakers have had their minds on entertaining their families, the businesses have collaborated to test and improve signage around the holiday park to simplify waste sorting for guests. A reduction from four waste sorting streams to three, and new signage to identify mixed recycling waste, food waste and glass waste has resulted in less contaminated waste unsuitable for recycling, less waste going to landfill, and less distractions for park visitors during their holiday.

Simon Almond, managing director at Devon Contract Waste commented: “As keen proponents of sustainable tourism, the values of the Harford Bridge Park management team fully align with our own as the only West Country provider of Zero to Landfill services and we’re delighted to provide the owners with a straightforward and cost effective way to manage their commercial waste. All the waste is baled at our Distribution Hub in Exeter before being passed on for onward processing, recycling and manufacturing under our innovative model which ensures that nothing that can possibly be recycled is sent to landfill.”

Simon continued: “We pride ourselves on delivering services that meet the individual needs of our customers and we look forward to working with Harford Bridge Park for many years to come.”

Paul Williamson, director operations at Harford Bridge Park commented: “Since we took on Harford Bridge in 1985 we have reinvested our profits into improving the sustainability of the park to ensure that visitors can continue to enjoy Dartmoor National Park with minimal environmental impact on our beautiful surroundings. The environmental and cost saving benefits of Zero to Landfill were the persuasive factors for us and Devon Contract Waste have provided great support to transition the park to their service at our busy time of year. From working with us to improve our signage for guests, to providing smart plastic bins that help us to maintain our visual standards, the team has been responsive to our requirements and we are happy customers.”

Paul added: “Harford Bridge looks forward to a long, productive relationship with Devon Contract Waste.”

Devon Contract Waste is a leading provider of commercial waste management services in Devon and bordering areas of Cornwall and Somerset. The company collects mixed waste from its clients in a single vehicle, reducing the number of journeys made and minimising its CO2 emissions. Each time a bin is emptied, around 3.04kg of CO2 is emitted, so collecting waste in a single bin rather than separating it into different containers also reduces CO2 emissions.