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Recycling

Recycling minimises energy and resources 

By avoiding the extraction and processing of virgin oil and it also reduces CO2, particulate matter and other harmful gases emissions, compared to other methods of disposal of recovery. It also diverts our rubbish from the landfill.

Nearly half of our municipal waste can be easily reduced by composting and recycling.

Of the 15,734 tonnes of municipal waste sent to the landfill in the UK (2016), 7,747 tonnes (49.2%) was biodegradable waste such food waste, green waste, cardboard and paper which decomposes to produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. 

UK statistics on waste

 

Cans

Many of the food and drink products we buy are packaged in cans made from either aluminium or steel and both of these materials can be recycled after we have finished with them to make either new cans or other products.

Did you know?

Recycling aluminium uses only around 5% of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite. The metal can be recycled time and time again without loss of properties, so getting the aluminium recycling habit is one of the best things we can do for the environment.

Steel can also be recycled time and time again without loss of quality; by simply recycling our steel cans we can conserve non-renewable fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of energy and the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

How is it recycled?

Aluminium cans

  • Aluminium cans are shredded, removing any coloured coating.
  • They are then melted in a huge furnace.
  • The molten metal is poured into ingot casts to set. Each ingot can be made into around 1.5 million cans.

Aluminium foil is a different alloy and is usually recycled separately with other aluminium scraps to make cast items such as engine components, where it makes a big contribution to making vehicles lighter and more energy efficient.

Steel cans

  • Steel cans are put into the furnace where molten iron is added.
  • Oxygen is then blasted into the furnace which heats up to around 1700°C.
  • The liquid metal is poured into a mould to form big slabs which are then rolled into coils.
  • These coils are used to make all sorts of steel products such as bikes, cars, bridges, paperclips or even new food and drink cans.

Environmental impact

Aluminium

Aluminium is a resource that forms about 8% of the earth’s crust. It is mined and extracted from bauxite, which contains the compound alumina, in an energy-intensive electrolytic process. Four tonnes of bauxite contains two tonnes of alumina, which yields one tonne of valuable aluminium.   The metal is used in buildings, transport and other industrial applications, as well as packaging.

Aluminium is the most cost-effective material to recycle, because of the huge energy savings – up to 95%. In addition, all the scraps left over from the aluminium production process can be melted down and used again and again. For this reason, recycling is part of the normal lifecycle for large industrial products – around 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in circulation.

Recycling 1kg of aluminium saves up to:

  • 6kg of bauxite
  • 4kg of chemical products
  • 14kWh of electricity.

Steel

Steel is made from one of the earth’s most common natural resources, iron ore, as well as limestone and coal. Mining for these raw materials and the production process involved in making steel have an environmental impact. Not only does the process require large amounts of energy but raw materials are wasted when mining, and the production process also produces waste and emissions.

Steel can be recycled time and time again without loss of quality, so by simply recycling our steel we can:

  • conserve non-renewable fossil fuels
  • reduce the consumption of energy
  • reduce the amount of raw materials being wasted
  • reduce the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Problems and issues

Both aluminium and steel are easy to recycle and there are huge environmental benefits for doing this – yet many cans still go to landfill. If we recycle more cans we can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products.

Top tips

Remember to recycle drinks cans when away from home – at work, while travelling or at sports and leisure locations. If you can’t find a recycling bin, take it home and recycle it later.

Rinse out food cans with your leftover washing up water before the residue has chance to dry out – it will take much less effort!

Made from recycled

Aluminium drinks cans are usually recycled into ingots at a special ‘closed-loop’ plant in Warrington. This is the ultimate recycling process for environmental efficiency and used cans are often recycled, made into new cans, filled and put back on the shelf in just six weeks.

Foil and other aluminium is generally recycled with other aluminium scraps such as window frames and road signs, and cast into engine components for vehicles, which makes them lighter and more fuel efficient.

Recycled steel can be found in incredibly diverse variety of products including:

  • bicycle frames
  • pipes
  • train tracks
  • ship hulls
  • cars
  • bridges
  • paperclips
  • food and drinks cans.

Steel can be infinitely recycled and because it is such a widely used material, the ranges of possible uses for it are endless.

Information from Recycle Now

Cartons

Cartons are designed to keep the contents fresh by protecting the product from deterioration by oxygen, sunlight, odour and bacteria. The square shape of cartons also lends itself to the efficient storage and transport of food and drinks, as the shape enables efficient use of space. 

There are two broad types: chilled, which make up about a third of the cartons placed on the market, and aseptic (also called long life or ambient) which make up the other two-thirds. 

1. Chilled 

Cartons that are used to contain chilled produce, have a polyethylene (PE) layer on the inside and outside which is bonded to the fibre. Average composition of 85% fibre and 15% PE. 

2. Aseptic 

Aseptic cartons, used to contain long-life products, also have a very thin layer of aluminium foil on the inside of the carton. The aluminium layer prevents oxygen from entering the carton as this causes the product to deteriorate. Composition is approximately 75% fibre, 20% PE and 5% aluminium (by weight). 

Cartons reprocessing 

The PE and aluminium layers in cartons are designed to prevent liquid from accessing the fibre layer of the packaging, this means that they require a longer pulping time than unlaminated paper and additional screening equipment to remove the non-fibre materials from the pulp. 

To separate the plastic (including lids) and aluminium from the fibre, the cartons need to be stirred with water in a batch pulper for about 20 minutes. Once the fibres have been broken down and pulped, the mixture is flushed with water to clean off the laminating materials; leaving the fibre separate from the combined PE/aluminium. 

Cartons mixed with cardboard/fibre grades may not be recycled by paper-mills and have to be screened out, representing a potential cost to the reprocessor. 

There is currently just one facility in the UK (Sonoco/ACE UK near Halifax) that is specifically designed to process post-consumer cartons for recycling.  Prior to the construction of ACE UK’s plant in 2013, cartons were exported to continental Europe for recycling where they make up a greater proportion of the waste stream.  

Yes please No thanks
Drink cartons, e.g. juices, milk – leave plastic tops on cartons and straws in drink cartons as these will be removed and recycled Laminated plastic food/drink pouches, e.g. baby, coffee and cat food pouches
Food cartons, e.g. soups

Glass

Domestic waste glass (known as cullet) is easy to recycle. The UK currently recycles around 50% of container glass (like bottles and jars) and while this figure has doubled over the last five years it still lags behind other countries. For example, both Switzerland and Finland recycle more than 90% of their glass.

Glass can be collected in bottle banks or as part of your kerbside collection. However, there is still more we can all do, such as remembering to recycle our clear jars (pasta sauce jars and jam jars) which are often forgotten.

The UK business sector still has a lot of work to do to recycle glass – bars, restaurants and pubs currently throw away over 200,000 tonnes of glass every year into landfill.

How is it recycled?

Once glass is collected and taken to be reprocessed, it is:

  • crushed and contaminants removed (mechanised colour sorting is usually undertaken at this stage if required)
  • mixed with the raw materials to colour and/or enhance properties as necessary
  • melted in a furnace
  • moulded or blown into new bottles or jars.
Environmental impact

The production and use of glass has a number of environmental impacts.

New glass is made from four main ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments. Although there is no shortage of these raw materials as yet, they all have to be quarried, which can damage the landscape, affect the environment and use more energy.

Glass is 100% recyclable and can be endlessly reprocessed with no loss of quality.  Therefore by simply recycling our glass we can:

  • conserve non-renewable fossil fuels
  • reduce the emission of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.
Did you know?
  • The addition of domestic waste glass (known as cullet) to a furnace in the glass manufacturing process, substantially reduces the energy requirement and decreases CO2 emissions. Each tonne of cullet added to the furnace saves 1.2 tonnes of raw materials – decreasing emissions still further.
  • New glass takes a lot of energy to make, first in transporting the materials to the furnace and then to heat them to a high temperature. An efficient furnace burns 4 gigajoules (GJ) (unit of energy measuring heat) to melt every tonne of glass – that’s the energy equivalent of burning 250kg of wood.
Problems and issues

The main problem with glass recycling is the quality of the glass collected. It can be contaminated, and therefore difficult to use in glass containers again. Due to the relatively low value of the material and the required processing costs, much glass ends up in aggregate where there is no environmental benefit. To try to counter, this a split target has been put in place to limit the amount of glass that doesn’t go through a remelt process.

Made from recycled

Recycled glass can be used to make a wide range of everyday products and some that are completely unexpected, including:

  • new bottles and jars
  • glass wool insulation for homes, which also helps with energy efficiency.
The different types of glass

We use many different types of glass in the UK, but at home we mostly use ‘soda-lime-silica’ glass for containers like bottles and jars. It is important not to mix up the different types of glass as they are re-processed differently.

Different types of glass include:

  • borosilicate glass – used for heat-resistant cooking equipment like Pyrex
  • lead glass – for sparkling decorative glassware
  • glass fibre – for insulation and fibre optic cable.

These different types of glass are not widely recycled so do not add these into your kerbside collection container or bottle banks at the recycling centre.

Colour and quality

During the glass manufacturing process, extra raw materials can be added to give the glass a particular colour or special qualities.

The extra raw materials that can be added are:

  • iron for a brown or green colour
  • cobalt for blue
  • alumina for durability
  • boron to improve resistance to heat or cold.
What glass can we recycle at home?
Yes please
No thanks
Bottles of any colour, e.g. wine, beer, spirits Glass cookware, e.g. Pyrex, microwave plates
Jars, e.g. sauces, jam, baby food Drinking glasses
Non-food bottles, e.g. perfume, aftershave, face creams Ceramics, e.g. crockery, earthenware
Nail varnish bottles
Mirrors
Light bulbs and tubes

Plastic

Plastic is one of the most popular and useful materials of modern times: we now use about 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago. Its popularity and widespread use is why handling it responsibly and correctly once it becomes waste is so vitally important. We can optimise the lifespan of plastics by re-using and recycling items as many times as possible.

Did you know?
  • 99% of all UK local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles either through your household recycling collection or at recycling centres.
What about other plastics?

Mixed plastics packaging (trays, tubs, pots, films etc) can also be mechanically recycled, and it is both economically and environmentally effective to do so. Infrastructure for the collection, sorting and reprocessing of these valuable resources has increased in the UK in recent years.

Currently, 79% of councils collect other rigid plastic packaging such as pots, tubs and trays in household recycling collections.

Enter your postcode into Recycling Locator tool to find out which plastics your council collects.

How is it recycled?

Plastics are:

  • Sorted by polymer type
  • Shredded
  • Washed
  • Melted
  • Pelletised
  • Made into new products.

It is a two-stage process:

  • Sorting is mainly done automatically with a manual sort to ensure all contaminants have been removed
  • Once sorted and cleaned, plastic can either be shredded into flakes or melt processed to form pellets before finally being moulded into new products.
Environmental impact

Plastic is a popular and highly versitile material, and we use a lot of it. Optimising the lifespan of plastics by re-using and recycling items as many times as possible, for example, by recycling used plastic bottles into new ones, we can therefore reduce our need to create new plastic.

This means we can:

  • conserve non-renewable fossil fuels (oil)
  • reduce the consumption of energy used in the production of new plastic
  • reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfill
  • reduce emission of gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Problems and issues

There are many different types of plastic in use, some of which we can recycle in the UK and other types – including that used to make flexible pouches and black microwaveable trays – which will require new technology before we are able to recycle it effectively. This means that some plastic still goes to landfill, some is incinerated and some shipped abroad for recycling.

There are currently large investments being made in Britain to help our domestic plastic recycling sector cope with the variety of plastics in use and it won’t be long before we operate a more efficient recycling system for all different types of plastic packaging.

In the meantime we can all do our bit to improve things now. Recycling plastic bottles is one easy way to help. They are usually made from two easily recyclable plastics – PET and HDPE – and can be recycled by most of us via our household recycling collections or local recycling centres.

Made from recycled

There is a wide range of products made from recycled plastic including:

  • refuse sacks and carrier bags
  • underground drainage systems for homes and national infrastructure
  • flower pots, seed trays, watering cans and water butts
  • wheel arch liners and bumpers on cars
  • damp proof membranes, guttering and window profiles used in construction
  • reusable crates and pallets
  • wheel bins and food caddies
  • composters and wormeries
  • drinks bottles and food trays
  • polyester fabric for clothing.
The different types of plastic

You may notice symbols on plastic packaging explaining the type of plastic they’re made of and how to recycle them. Read Packaging symbols explained for more information.

You may have seen an increase in businesses moving to different types of plastic packaging, but knowing your bio-plastics from your biodegradable plastics can be very confusing.

Plastic can be made from fossil-based or bio-based materials. Both can be used to make highly durable, non-biogradable plastics, or plastics which either biodegrade or compost.

Fact: Just because a plastic is made from bio-based sources, does not automatically mean it will biodegrade!

Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled

Only non-biodegradable plastic can be recycled, regardless of whether it is fossil-based or bio-based.

Compostable plastics can be composted at industrial scale composting facilities, so you can put these in with your green waste but only if it goes to one of these facilities – your council will be able to tell you where your green waste goes.

Some compostable plastics can also be home composted and should be clearly labelled if this is the case. Compostable plastics should not go in with your dry recycling as they cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastic.

Biodegradable plastics also cannot be recycled in the same way as non-biodegradable plastics. Some can be composted, but not all, and should be clearly labelled if this is the case.

Biodegradable packaging should be clearly labelled as such, and should not go in with your dry recycling.

 

Information from Recycle Now

Paper

When recycling paper please remember:

  • Remove any plastic wrapping and free gifts from newspapers, magazines and junk mail and put in the general rubbish.
  • Paper is one of the most valuable recyclable materials – but only when it is clean.
  • If you scrunch paper and it doesn’t spring back, then it can be recycled.
Yes please
No thanks
Newspapers and supplements Paper that is stained with foodstuffs, grease, paint or dirt (e.g. greaseproof or baking paper, kids paintings)
Magazines, brochures and catalogues Hygiene/sanitary products (e.g. nappies, wipes, sanitary towels)
White paper (e.g. computer paper, letters) Used paper towels
Shredded paper Tissues
Telephone directories Cotton wool and make up pads
 Junk mail and flyers Wet wipes
Envelopes (including those with a window) Sticky papers (e.g. Post-it notes, sticky labels or paper tape)
Non-paper gift wrap or bags (e.g. foil-based gift wrapping) Crisp or sweet packets or wrappers
Wallpaper and decoration paper Brown paper (this should be recycled with card because it causes brown flecks in new paper)

 

Information from Recycle Now