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What happens to your recycling after it’s collected?

With the UK currently recycling just 45.5% of its waste, there is a nationwide push to increase recycling. But, do you know what actually happens to your recyclables after they’re collected? We took a look inside industry expert Bywaters’ Material Recovery Facility (MRF), to find out how your waste is recycled. 

The Process

Operating within a vast space in East London, Bywaters 24/7 operations are a hub of activity. A constant flow of material from all over the UK is tipped in the impressive facility, which makes up London’s largest undercover MRF. Capable of processing up to 650,000 tonnes of material a year, recovering over 95% to be recycled.

Once your waste is tipped, it is greeted by Bywaters friendly staff for inspection. Contaminated waste and non-recyclable waste is separated from the recyclable material and siloed to produce energy from waste. To reduce emissions, the waste is transported to the incinerator via barge.

After the inspection is complete, your waste is collected by ‘the grab’. An automatic material picking machine that scoops bulk material and deposits it into two large rotating bag splitters, to remove any excess packaging. 

Before your waste goes through a wild journey of spinning discs, speeding conveyor belts, infrared lasers and whirling magnets. Bywaters employees remove non-recyclable waste at the presort cabin, as well as any other residue that could obstruct the efficient processing of the dry recyclables. 

Bywaters state-of-the-art equipment works in harmony, taking mixed recyclables like metals, plastics and glass and sorting them to be turned into new products like cans, bottles and notepads.

Flying out of the cabin, the mixed recyclables speed on to a series of large screens designed to separate waste based on shape. First, an OOC (old corrugated cardboard) screen consisting of numerous giant rotating axles/gears simultaneously sorts large pieces of cardboard whilst extracting fine material to be used as aggregate in many local building projects. 

A second screen is aligned at a steep 45-degree angle, the gyrating screws help separate 3D and 2D items. 2D items gain traction, climbing up the polishing screen to a final sorting cabin where the paper is sorted based on quality – whilst 3D items tumble down the screen in a spinning whirl of colour, leaving just plastics and metals to be separated.

Trundling along the conveyor belt, the 3D materials, mainly consisting of plastic and metal drinks containers, travel toward the high-tech “triple-level near-infrared optical sorting system”. Using infrared lasers to read the material’s chemical makeup, plastics are shot with a jet of air throwing them into the required silo, ensuring HDPE, PET and any other plastics are kept seperate. An overband magnet attracts ferrous metals whilst an eddy current simultaneously repels non-ferrous metals like aluminium, sorting the materials ready to be baled.

The siloed materials are compressed and baled into blocks that can weigh up to 700kg. The baled material, which can be up to 99% pure, is sent to repressors, where it is cleaned and processed into brand new products that can be sold and reused, starting the process again.

A more sustainable solution

Bywaters’ MRF uses sustainable energy from 4000 solar panels installed on its roof. The 1MW array reduces associated carbon emissions by around 45%, producing enough power to run 237 homes for a year. The recycling process saves far more energy than gathering virgin materials. For example, recycling aluminium through Bywaters’ recycling process can save up to 95% more energy than would be needed to make aluminium from raw materials.

Recycling your waste, broadening your knowledge and being a more conscious consumer are all crucial to lowering the UK’s carbon footprint. Bywaters recycling services repurpose old material turning it into something new, helping the UK’s push toward a circular economy and protecting the limited raw resources we have on our planet. 

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