What Happens to your Recycling?

Have you ever wondered what happens to your recycling once it’s been collected? Herts County Council have answered this question and many more you might have about waste collection in Hertfordshire.

Where does my recycling go once you collect it from the kerbside?

In general, the recycling is taken to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) run by a private sector partner for sorting. Recyclables are separated by type and bulked ready for reprocessing. Which District you live in affects exactly where your recycling is taken as individual councils hold separate contracts, but the majority go to a facility in St Albans. Please contact your local council for specific information.

Following this first sorting stage, the bulked materials are then sold on by the reprocessor. The specific material, quality and wider market conditions at the time, dictate where the material is sold on to. The reprocessors make best endeavours to find a UK market for all materials. However, sometimes there is no viable option to have the material reprocessed in the UK.

Why don’t we recycle it all in this country? What materials go where?

A significant proportion of recycling from households such as separately collected newspapers and magazines, steel and aluminium cans and textiles are sent to reprocessors here in the UK. Similarly all of the organic materials collected in Hertfordshire, such as garden waste and food waste, are also processed at recycling plants in the UK including at a number of facilities in Hertfordshire.

Whilst best endeavours are made to find a UK market, sometimes the demand for a material just does not exist in the UK. Furthermore, current UK markets do not have sufficient capacity to be able to absorb all of the dry recyclables the UK collects.

This means it is necessary to all allow our private sector partners, subject to regulatory compliance, the freedom to trade dry recyclables on the international market in order to achieve the best income streams and/or lowest costs for tax payers.

More detail about the end destinations for all of Hertfordshire’s recycling, garden waste, food waste and residual waste, including maps, can be in the 2017/18 Hertfordshire Waste Partnership Annual report.

The 2018/19 report is due out towards the end of 2019.

How much does it cost to recycle? Is it cheaper to just dispose of everything?

Disposal of non-recyclable waste is more expensive than recycling our waste. Fluctuating markets determine whether we receive an income for our recyclables or pay to recycle them. When an income is received it helps to offset a proportion of the cost of running the collection services.

Is sending our recycling to another country still the more environmentally friendly choice – is it worth the energy, pollution and materials saved in terms of carbon footprint?

Recycling still is the best environmentally friendly way of getting rid of your recyclables as it avoids the need to use primary products to make new materials and avoids emissions from disposal. Typically recycling transport only accounts for a small percentage of the overall life cycle emissions.

Unfortunately, there isn’t the capacity in the UK to reprocess all of our recyclables without sending some of it abroad. There is demand for these materials on the international market and sending material abroad for recycling ensures this demand is met.

What regulations are put in place ensure compliance? How do we know our recycling isn’t being sent abroad and dumped somewhere?

Rigorous processes and procedures are undertaken for the handling and loading of materials for export if a suitable facility is not available in the UK. All exports must be in compliance with The Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations set out by the Government. This process is fully auditable by HMRC and the Environment Agency.

Herts County Council’s private sector partners have all been audited by the Environment Agency and passed the inspection.

In terms of the facilities which recyclables are sent to abroad, private sector partners ensure that all materials are sent to a suitably licensed facility. They also ensure any facility is suitably permitted to accept and appropriately manage the particular material in question. They deal with only reputable brokers that have been approved by government bodies. In instances where large volumes of recycling is contracted, the broker visits the facility and carries out a full audit. The findings including the plant processes from start to finish are presented back to the reprocessor who sent out the bulked material.

Where does my general waste go once you collect it from the kerbside?

Non-recyclable waste collected from households in Hertfordshire is delivered either directly to landfill sites or taken to a waste transfer station near Watford. From there, residual waste is largely directed to a number of energy from waste facilities in neighbouring counties and London. The use of such facilities allows both energy to be recovered from residual waste, which contributes towards the UK’s power needs and minimises the use of landfill.

More information can be found in the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership (HWP) Annual report.

Why is knowing what to recycle so confusing? I’m struggling to know whether I can recycle something, who can I ask for help?

Recycling collected at the kerbside is generally household packaging materials, including plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays, paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, tins and cans and foil. If you’re unsure if something can be recycled leave it out of your recycling. Alternatively, check the council website or contact them via email on wasteaware@hertfordshire.gov.uk.

Why do my friends and family that live in other boroughs recycle differently to me?

Local district and borough councils can determine their own recycling collection scheme and what they collect from your kerbside. Considerations for collection schemes may include the makeup and layout of properties and the extent of the collection area they need to cover. The recyclables collected will usually be determined by contracts in place for reprocessing.

It should be noted however, that through the Hertfordshire Waste Partnership (HWP), there are a number of shared contracts currently in place for the reprocessing of recyclables.

What else can I do to help the environment besides recycling?

There are many ways that you can help the environment. WasteAware have run a number of campaigns to provide ideas on:

Please take a look at the council’s webpage for more information or follow them @HertsWasteAware on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.