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From The Bin To The Recycling Centre: What Happens To Our Waste?

Despite there being many benefits to recycling, it is not as simple a process as you might imagine.

Recycling rates have increased in the UK which is, of course, a great thing, but so is our population. So with this in mind, to fulfil demands, we’re producing more goods and using more natural resources than previously, but despite these efforts, we are still throwing too many items away.

Taking this into consideration and to gain a better understanding of what happens behind the scenes at recycling centres in the UK today, we’ve compiled a couple of facts and figures relating to this topic and will guide you on a journey through to process and journey of recycling in the UK.

We all know recycling is important but the chances are after we chuck our household items in the recycling box – we don’t give them a second thought. But what actually is it that goes on behind the scenes at the recycling centres around the country? In this blog that is what we aim to explore – the stages of waste disposal.

Recycling in the UK

Here in the UK, there is a system in place that involves people sorting their our own rubbish, regardless of if that is at home or within a business premise. After we have accumulated and gone through the waste, the waste items need to be recycled and are then gathered on certain days of the week by collectors organised by the council local to you – you can find yours out by looking through the online directory provided by GOV.UK

Councils implement various methods for collecting recycled items. There are kerbside ‘sort’ schemes in place which involve recyclables being sorted into their necessary materials on the lorry at the kerbside; and co-mingled collections where all of the recyclables are placed into one compartment on the lorry before being taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and sorted. This section is looking at co-mingled collections.

Common waste disposal items

A variety of items can be recycled or disposed of at recycling centres including glass, paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, textiles, metals, electricals, engine oil, car batteries, cooking oil and green waste.

In lots of cases, small amounts can be recycled by the bin collections from your home or even at local recycling banks. There are various items that can’t be taken into our recycling centres and require specialist disposal such as asbestos, car tyres, trade, commercial or industrial waste.

You will not be permitted to use a work vehicle to get rid of waste at one of our recycling centres if it has a connection to your trade, even if it is your own household waste. ‘Man with a van’ services can’t be used for disposing of waste at our recycling centres under any circumstances.

You’ll be able to find a list of common household waste items, whether they’re accepted at our recycling centres and the skip to look for:



●    Paper – the most substantial material that goes into a recycling plant

●    Cardboard – anything from cereal boxes to bigger packaging containers

●    Plastics – from plastic bottles to toys

●    Glass – this ranges from jars, bottles and even windows

●    Metals – steel to aluminium, a recycling plant deals with loads of different metals


The stages of waste disposal and recycling plants

After all the materials are picked up by the local councils’ collectors and sent off, the stages of waste disposal and recycling become even more complex and there is a specific process that is then carried out. Overall, these materials go to an MRF (Material Recovery Facility) to follow this. Here, we explain the various stages that happen in an MRF recycling plant:


Firstly, all materials that come through are loaded onto conveyors and swiftly inspected. The sorting process begins and incorrect items such as food packets and plastic bags are removed along with any very dirty or moist items. These waste items will be removed as they cannot be processed or sold. They can also contaminate the rest of the items and the plant may have to pay unnecessary charges to send it to landfill.


After this, the recyclables go into the separation process on the conveyor. As the materials placed on the conveyor are all put together, they have to be sorted and split up and anything that isn’t separated at the end will incur costs. The order of separation is reliant on the MRF facility in question, but here’s what happens along the conveyor:

Cardboard and paper are the first things be the first to be separated. The materials will onto a vibrating machine and this then separates the cardboard and paper, but some of it may need to be sorted by hand. Once sorted, they exit the conveyor and the rest carries on.

Ferrous metals such as steel and iron are removed from the conveyor by strong magnets from above.

A special magnet section called an eddy current is used to remove non-ferrous metals such as aluminium cans, copper pipes and gold and silver jewellery. Plastics carry on along the conveyor and are then separated using optical scanners. Lighter plastics may be identified first, leaving plastic bottles to be sorted after.

Then, dependant on the MRF facility, glass can be the last material left on the conveyor and will drop off the end of the conveyor into containers. It must, however, be noted that not all MRF facilities accept glass.

Once the materials have been separated, each material will be put into compact blocks which can then be stacked and sent off. Each can come in different sized blocks and each material will go to a designated recycling plant for the next phases.

Shredding or melting down

Once the materials have been sorted and separated they will go on to their specialist recycling facility, mill or plant and are shredded, ground or melted down by mechanical methods and specialist machines. The result would then be tiny pieces which are ready to be weighed. The inspection and separation process makes sure that no unclean or cross-contaminating materials can get shredded – for example, any metal left in the plastic sections can cause the shredding blades serious harm and can cost a lot to repair.


This is quite a simple process where the materials will be shredded or in some cases melted and are then weighed. In turn, the usable materials will then be weighed and are therefore eligible to be sold on and progressed onto the next stage.

Selling on to manufacturers

After the shredding or melting and weighing process, the materials are marketed and sold to relevant facilities to be recycled properly into various items e.g. bags, clothing, paper, containers. Recycled materials can also be exported oversea to places such as China, who are willing to pay more for plastic because they do not have access to the necessary resources to make materials needed for their manufacturing processes.

Why is recycling so crucial?

Recycling Conserves Resources

When we recycle, the materials are made into brand new products, decreasing the requirement to consume natural resources. If used materials do not end up being recycled, new products are created by using fresh, raw material from the Earth, through mining and even forestry. Recycling can help to conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the years to come.

Recycling saves energy

Using recycled materials throughout the manufacturing process means that considerably less energy is required for the production of new products from raw materials. Moreover, there are additional energy savings to be made when there is energy is required to extract, refine, transport and process raw materials ready for industry compared to providing industry-ready materials.

Recycling reduces landfill

When you recycle, these materials can be reprocessed into brand new products, and in turn, the amount of rubbish sent to landfill sites decreases. As it stands, there are over 1,500 landfill sites in the UK, these sites produced a quarter of the UK’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Devon Contract Waste – a recycling centre who can responsibly manage your recycling

If you happen to be based in the South West and are seeking for a reliable and eco-friendly solution for waste disposal, look no further than Devon Contract Waste. We are able to handle an extensive range of waste types. This even includes the slightly more complex hazardous, clinical and confidential waste, in an efficient and responsible manner. For our customers to manage their business waste, we provide a variety of container solutions. Our team are dedicated to providing sustainable and eco-friendly waste management to our commercial customers, which is why we’ve made it our mission to recycle as much waste as we can. Our Zero to Landfill solution makes sure that none of the waste we collect goes to landfill and is the only one of its kind down here in the South West. With this in mind, if you want to give your business the eco-edge, get in touch with us today.

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