I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Confessions of an Eco Sinner – Travels to find where my stuff comes from’ by Fred Pearce.
It goes into everything from wedding rings to jeans, computer parts to green beans, and it’s a really interesting read as you follow the author on his journey around the world finding the human stories behind our stuff.
One of the bits that particularly caught my attention though was the section on recycling. It feels so virtuous putting the paper in the recycling box rather than chucking it in the bin (I hesitate every time I put something in the bin these days – asking myself if there’s anything else I can do with the item dangling over the waste abyss… or whether the god of recycling is about to strike me down!) but the book reveals (in a measured and sensible tone, not with any sense of anti-green glee) a number of recycling fiascos that had me questioning exactly where my stuff goes…
So I decided to email Worthing Council to find out, thus:
“I would be grateful if you could tell me what happens to the recycling collected in Worthing. We put everything in the same box (card, cans etc.) and it all appears to go into the same hole in the recycling van.
I have been told that if this is the case, it would be too labour intensive to sort it at the other end and all the recycling will simply be crushed up and used for roads or dams, for example, but not to be turned back into usable items (i.e. a bottle becoming another bottle, paper recycled into more paper) – is this correct?”
The response arrived just 2 days later:
Initially all the recycling is taken to a bulking station in Lancing where it is loaded onto bulk transport. It is then taken to a sorting plant in Crayford, South East London where it is separated into constituent parts. I have toured the plant myself and can assure you that all the materials streams are separated fully using a combination of hand and mechanical sorting.
The plant we are using is only a temporary arrangement, as a new West Sussex facility is currently being built at Ford near Littlehampton. When it is operational it will be geared up for public visits so I would encourage you to take a look for yourself at the appropriate time. You won’t be disappointed – I found my trip to Crayford to be extremely interesting (and a little mesmerising!).
In terms of final reprocessing the material streams are sent far and wide:
• Mixed paper is going to a plant in Essex where it is turned into packaging and insulation
• Glass is used in the road building industry to create anti-skid surfacing
• Plastic bottles are sent to China where they are used to manufacture clothing and toys
• Steel is sent to South Wales where it is fed in with other steel scrap and turned into cars, electricity pylons etc
• Aluminium is sent to Warrington where it is used to make new drink cans
I hope this reassures you that you are making a difference!”
I have to say it has reassured me – at least a little – although my concerns about the glass were correct which is disappointing when there are companies such as ‘Green Glass’ crying out to re-use glass bottles. The China trip isn’t ideal either but if that’s where they’re going to use them I guess that’s the way it has to be… for now anyway.
And I’ll have to make sure I take that trip to the new recycling plant once it’s up and running.
I’d be really interested to get your thoughts on this though – am I being naive in trusting them?! Do you work in the industry? Do you have more insider information? What should we do to get bottles recycled into new bottles? Recycle your responses here!
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