What Happens to the Content of my Recycling Bin?

When we recycle our household waste in East Suffolk this is only start of the process .

Many people ask – what happens to my recyclable materials?  Upon collection, waste from our blue bin is taken to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at Great Blakenham, operated by Biffa, where it is sorted and packed.   

  • For metals, 3,278 tonnes were recycled in the UK and 313 in Germany. 
  • For cardboard the result is more varied: only 389 tonnes were recycled in the UK, while 5,729 tonnes were sent to (in descending order) Turkey, Taiwan, India, China, Vietnam and Thailand. 
  • For paper, similarly, 5,770 tonnes were recycled in the UK while 16,427 tonnes went to India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.  
  • For plastics, 6,059 tonnes were recycled in the UK while Turkey and Romania took most of the remaining 2,000 tonnes.                                                                                                                 Figures are for last year (2020/21). 

This of course begs the question, why are we exporting so much and not recycling our own materials here?  Is it because we do not have the industries in the UK  that use these materials?  And this leads us to the bigger issue of how all our decisions are interlinked to the world and yes, decisions which we make locally can have an impact  in some far away county.  These are global  markets.  Just think  for a moment where most of our consumer goods are produced, in fact just look at where food is produced.

Another question often asked is, how much of the material collected is used?  Contaminants such as general rubbish, food, glass, cartons, textiles and even used nappies need either to be removed by hand, an unpleasant and potentially dangerous job, or sometimes the whole load has to be rejected. In 2020/21 13,000 tonnes of wrong material were put in Suffolk's household recycling bins, resulting in a contamination rate of 25%. This is bad for the environment and costly for taxpayers. 

Residents ask why glass isn’t allowed in the blue recycling bin.  Glass is the best item to recycle.  Often when we talk about recycling items, they are just downgraded into their component parts. However glass is recycled into glass – and this cycle can be never ending. However to achieve this we need a completely separate stream of collection, hence the bottle banks.  So when we take glass to these banks we really are doing something important to help the environment.

Questions on what can and can be placed in the blue bin or how to dispose of different items – big or small can be found at: https://www.suffolkrecycling.org.uk/a-z-of-recycling

The environment bill was passed last year by Westminster and this year long-awaited secondary legislation will be passed allowing substantial changes in how waste will be collected.   Residents may be asked to have different bins and manage waste in new ways, and I will explain more about this when we know more. 

But for now we should think about reduce, re-use and recycle and just pause and think about what we are putting into the blue bin.

Cllr James Mallinder

Cabinet Member for Environment

East Suffolk Council