Saturday, 1 December 2012

Co-mingling not good for the soul

My council issues blue boxes for recycling with instructions to keep things separate. Glass bottles and jars are sorted into different colours and need to be kept apart from cans, plastic bottles and paper products. Finding suitable objects (other than carrier bags) to sub-divide the boxes is a constant challenge. I do this task every weekend, about the same time I used to go to evensong and it feels a bit confessional. Did we really consume that many green bottles?

Other councils are more laid back and say chuck all the non-glass into the same box. Presumably this means the residents are likely to recycle more waste and the council’s collection and onward handling is that much simpler. But surely it creates a big headache downstream?

UPM Shotton and the MRRF
Not at UPM Shotton where they have a massive recycling centre which handles the waste from 30% of UK households. Huge lorries are constantly arriving from across the UK and as far afield as Scotland to deliver all sorts of materials including the jumbled up boxes of ‘co-mingled’ stuff to use the recycling jargon.

I watched a truck disgorge its load of 25 tonnes by means of a ‘walking floor trailer’. This gets loaded onto a conveyor belt for a human check to pull out things, such as a duvet, that might snag the machinery. Thereafter it’s all done by machine with a bit of human quality assurance at the end. Powerful magnets and eddy current separators extract the metals. Sensors detect the characteristics of, for example, carrier bags and jets of air blast them on to another conveyor. And so it goes on until bales of sorted materials are stacked up ready to load onto trucks for factories to use again.

But not the newsprint. Each year Shotton converts 650,000 tonnes of old newspapers into half a million tonnes of recycled newsprint. The most modern of the three paper mills, the largest in the world, produces paper nine metres wide at 60 mph!

I was pleased with what I saw and all the efforts to power the plant with renewables – even the unwanted newspaper ink gets burnt to generate power. Driving back over the Denbigh Moors my head was buzzing with what I’d seen, the deafening noises of machinery, the putrid smell of rotting biomass.  Ahead of me the northern Snowdonia range covered in snow and an array of wind turbines poking over the horizon like giants practising their semaphore.

It was all very impressive but things would be so much better if we consumed less products and packaging and reduced our need for recycling.  


  1. that's a beautiful photo of Snowdonia covered in snow - was lucky enough to be up there in that snow yesterday. The recycling thing does annoy me - we try so hard to recycle everything yet I'm always astounded by the amount of packaging that goes into some products - and with Christmas coming there will be all the more to get rid of, good to hear how it is being done though

  2. good article, its interesting to see the commingling v source separation debate seems to polarise so many in the recycling industry and yet shotton, in wales is showing that both ways work for them, its a good MRF too they seem to produce pretty good quality outputs and makes their entire business more diverse and more financially sustainable and ultimately leads to more recycling