What actually happens to your recycled waste?

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

IT'S bolognese night. As per your routine, with the meal digested and the washing up done, you rinse the sauce jar and put it with the recycling.

A day or two later and the green box, including the jar, finds itself on the kerbside, awaiting collection.

The recycling wagon arrives, the box is emptied, and the former Ragu receptacle begins its journey towards a new lease of life.

Its first port of call is the recycling facility on Bryn Lane at Wrexham Industrial Estate.
“All the recyclable materials are collected from households, source sorted by the collection teams, and they arrive here,” explains Nick Brabner, the man in charge of composting at the site.

“They are then emptied into different bays – paper, white cardboard, your cornflake packets, things like that; light plastics such as your milk bottles, washing up liquid bottles; metals, which are sorted into ferrous and non-ferrous; and glass.

“Recycling is not a modern thing. You used to get your deposit back if you returned your glass bottles – it’s just done a little differently these days.”

The majority of the materials – the paper, card, metals etc are simply baled and stacked to await collection.

Paper will be recycled to produce items such as this copy of the Leader; white cardboard will become brown cardboard; and metallic items will be melted down to make all sort sorts of things – an aluminium can is likely to become another aluminium can.

Glass, however, is dealt with slightly differently. Since collection, your clear glass jar been joined by a green glass wine bottle and an amber beer bottle and, before it can be recycled, glass has to be sorted according to colours.

Three or four times a week, a huge articulated lorry arrives at the recycling facility
and is filled with tonnes of glass, destined for Ellesmere Port and specialist glass recyclers Recresco.

A 30 year-old family-run business, the Nottingham-based firm opened a plant in Ellesmere Port to supply nearby manufacturers Quinn Glass.

Using specialist technologies brought over from the United States, the plant processes 140,000 tonnes of glass each year, separating the colours and extracting other materials from the mix (ie aluminium tops from wine bottles – they collect between 20 and 25 tonnes a week – which are then sent for recycling).

Optics on the machines can identify glass colours and sort them accordingly.

Some 90 per cent of the glass processed at the plant is re-melted; the remainder used for aggregate, environmentally friendly shotblast or fibreglass, depending on the quality. Nothing is wasted.

Your glass jar goes down the conveyer belt and is separated from the mixture, joining a pile of similarly coloured glass.

This pile of broken or waste glass intended for recycling is termed ‘cullet’ and, once in this form, is transferred to  Quinn Glas in nearby Elton. There cullet is added to a mixture of sand, soda ash, limestone and other raw materials and is melted in one of two huge furnaces, reaching temperatures of up to 1,500C.

The molten glass stream is then conditioned and mechanical shears cut it into ‘gobs’. These are put into moulds, which form bottles or jars.

Any with imperfections are picked out by a machine and sent on a conveyer belt back to the beginning of the process.

The containers that have ‘passed’ then go into a special oven for ‘annealing’ – a process which toughens the glass – and slow cooling.

A special scratch-resistant coating is applied and the containers are ready to be filled, labelled and packaged.

They are then ‘palleted’ and transferred to a huge automated warehouse with a whopping 284,000 locations where they await distribution to pubs, clubs, supermarkets and shops, not just in the UK, but around the world.

According to The British Glass Manufacturers’ Confederation, the energy saving from recycling one bottle will power a 100-watt light-bulb for almost an hour, a computer for 25 minutes, a colour TV for 20 minutes or a washing machine for 10 minutes.

In 2001, the UK glass industry recycled 587,000 tonnes of glass, saving enough energy to launch 10 space shuttle missions.

Wrexham County Borough recycles 42 per cent of its waste and aims to hit a target of 52 per cent by 2012-13.

By 2025, the authority is looking to recycle 70 per cent of all household waste, working towards a target of 100 per cent by 2050.

So don’t bin it, recycle it. You really will be making a world of difference.

See full story in the Leader

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