The How, What and Why of Recycling in West Berkshire

Steve Ardagh-Walter, head of the environment committee at West Berkshire Council, recently did a talk (see below) for this year’s online GreenFest on the recycling and waste policies of West Berkshire Council.

Here is a summary of his main points (for more information please contact Steve.Ardagh-Walter@westberks.gov.uk):

In West Berkshire:

50% of household waste is recycled (green bins, paper, tin, plastic bottles, glass)
50% of household waste is non-recyclable (black bin)

Black Bin Waste

Each West Berkshire resident is producing on average half a tonne of black bin waste per year which puts us at the higher end of waste generation in the country. 

What happens to our black bin waste?

68% goes into the energy for waste recovery process
32% goes into landfill (which is heavily taxed by the government)

As much as possible is transported to energy for waste recovery sites at Marchwood, near Southampton and another location near Heathrow airport. The process involves incinerating the waste to generate electricity. Whilst this is a preferable option to landfill, incineration still produces emissions, and there is evidence of modern incinerators unleashing very low, but recorded levels of heavy metals and acid gas particles into the air.

How to Reduce your Black Bin Waste

  • Food waste makes up an incredible 25% of black bin waste. Please put it instead in the green bin so it is composted instead of incinerated. You will see stickers on your black bin, reminding you not to put your food waste in it.
  • Local resident, Jana Little, runs the local terracycle in the area which collects a wider range of plastics and other materials for recycling than the council can. 
  • Please find out more by joining this Facebook page that Jana runs.
  • Here is their recent detailed list of where to recycle lots of different items (15 Aug 2020)
  • Encourage more people to become environmentally engaged and aware of recycling policies! See here what you can recycle at council sites
  • The council have recently started releasing e-newsletters detailing these updates. Please sign up here.
Residents are encouraged to use bags in their black bins to contain and compact their waste and minimising risk of it creating litter if it gets blown from a truck or landfill site.

Green Bin and Food Waste

Green waste from your green bin, which includes both garden/green waste and food waste (including tea bags but not kitchen roll) is composted locally at a facility in Padworth, where water retained in the waste is evaporated over a period of 2 weeks. Bacteria then digests this organic material, transforming it into a nutritious compost which is then sold to market gardeners, farmers, nurseries and garden centres. The council have mooted the idea of treating green waste with anaerobic digestion, but at present, this isn’t economically viable due to transport costs to the necessary facility.

Plastics Recycling

Why does West Berkshire Council only recycle plastic bottles?

Currently, the council recycles plastics containing:

(PET) Polyethylene Terephthalate
(HDPE) or High-Density Poly Ethylene. 

Both of these materials are the constituent materials in plastic bottles and have markets with manufacturers in the UK who can turn them into other plastics. A high proportion of plastic bottles are now recycled and turned back into bottles or transformed into other items, such as park benches. There is full traceability on this recycling process.

If non bottle-shaped plastics (eg margarine tubs) are included in the plastic kerbside recycling bags, they have to be removed by hand at the Veolia facility in Padworth. (Steel and aluminium cans in the same bag are removed electrically).

What do other councils and companies do?

Other councils that collect all kinds of plastics typically have their bins handled by sub-contractors who extract the PET and HDPE, but then export the remaining plastics to Europe and increasingly to South-East Asia and Turkey where waste is often dumped or burned

Big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s at Reading Calcot collect plastics that are not easily recyclable in the UK. There are probably sent to Germany, at a net loss to the company, and incurring enviromental consequences of transport. So this is not an optimum scenario.

The future of plastic recycling

The government has recently implemented a policy which will charge manufactures for the disposal of their packaging. This will incentivise adoption of greener materials which can be recycled, for instance, starch-based films, as well as decreasing utilisation of mixed plastics so that more can be recovered.

The council is hoping that manufacturer demand for recycling of different plastics will increase, as well as manufacturers reducing the range of combined plastics, which substantially increases the difficulty of recycling items such as margarine lids.

Tetra Paks and Coated Plastics Recycling

The council has recently replaced glass collection recycling bins at areas such as supermarkets, with tetra pack and disposable coffee cup and other coated plastic bins. This innovation has been made possible by a government scheme which has pressurised coffee shops into transitioning to coated fibres, and tetra pack material, with a UK buyer now treating these materials.

Paper and Cardboard Recycling

At this time it is fine to include greasy cardboard like pizza boxes in the cardboard recycling boxes as the cardboard market is weak at the moment. Wet cardboard isn’t ideal but the cost of new collection boxes that keep it dry kerbside is not affordable.

Metal Recycling

You can recycle beer bottle tops and metal lids with aluminium.

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