What is Recycling?

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Courtesy of S Blue Rock

I don’t need to tell you how big a supporter I am of home recycling.  Okay, I will.

We recycle almost everything in our household – plastics, glass, clothes, paper.  I get such a thrill from adding the various materials to the recycling boxes.

I’m so enthusiastic that I actually scorn at the houses that don’t produce their boxes on collection days, as I walk past them with Mouse.

I’ve got an outside composter that produces some pretty stonking compost for my garden and when a trip to the local recycling center (aka tip) is called for – well you just can’t hold me back, it’s like a therapy session!

So you see, I’m well up for it.

When I was down at my mum’s last month she was busy washing out all her plastics ready to add to the array of recycling bins situated outside the retirement flats, where she lives, when she suddenly came out with –

I’m not sure why I spend so much time recycling, it all gets shipped off to China anyway.

You can imagine the picture of horror my face showed when I heard this.  I simply could not believe it but then it dawned on me I just blindly recycle everything thinking I’m doing good in the world and maybe I shouldn’t.

I decided it was time to do some research into finding out not only where Mum’s recycling in Rochford goes but where ours, in Grimsby goes too.

So today just in case you were any doubt of why we need must recycle and what happens to it – this post is for you.

A tale of two towns

Two small towns, Grimsby is part of NE Lincs and comes under NEL Unitary Council authority (NELC), while Rochford comes under a District council, headed up and supported by Essex County Council.

Grimsby has approx. population of 87,500 while Rochford has 7,600 residents.

In 2011/12 Rochford came in a record 4th from the top in a green/food waste recycling table with 38% of waste being recycled.

In stark contrast NELC came in 165th with 18% of the green/food waste being recycled.

For all recycling (everything that can be recycled combined) Rochford came in 57th with 29% while NELC came in at 344th (ouch) with just 16% recycled.

Overall that put Rochford’s performance 3rd in the league table while NELC came in at 288th out of a total of 352 listed authorities.

Great news for Rochford and rather depressing news for Grimsby.  However the statistics only ever tell one side of the story.  For a start there seemed to be no correlation between small or large towns being top of the league, but it obviously helps the smaller population you recycle for.

It doesn’t take into account housing types, deprivation levels and money available to councils to spend on recycling, in statistical terms the figures have not been standardised in any way.

I wanted to first find out if Mum’s recycling was going to China, so I contacted Rochford Council who came back to me very quickly and informed me the information was out of date.  Yes the recycling started to go to China in 2008 but by 2010 it was being taken to Wales.

Phew, that was a relief.  The data available on where the recycling goes is out of date but I am assured this will be rectified very soon.

NELC’s recycling is rather a somewhat different story.  Where the end recycling goes is stated on their website in a very basic infographic.  Again all recycling is sent out to businesses in and around the UK.

The really interesting part is at the bottom of that webpage when it talks about a company called – NEWLINCS Development Ltd.

NEWLINCS are responsible for overseeing all waste in NEL, once it’s collected from your house – recycled and non-recycled materials.

They bulk and package up the various cans, plastics, and cardboard’s within their processing plant and ship it off to re-processors  around the country.

Then they deal with the waste.

You know the stuff we all chuck in the bin with no thought for what so ever.  Cooked carcasses  toilet paper, nappies, that plastic packaging that comes with a pork chop – you know all that crap.  I wanted to know what happens to that.

I got in touch with them who told me the following:

We operate an Energy from Waste Plant which processes approximately 51,000 tonnes of waste per annum, and produces electricity and hot water which is sold to a local chemical company (Synthomer).

Only a small amount of waste each year goes to landfill – this is primarily when the energy from waste plant is shut down for annual maintenance.

Wow, that’s impressive.  Just think about that for a moment – all those roast potatoes you couldn’t finish on Sunday and those plastic bags with holes in you couldn’t re-use have just been turned into electricity.

Now this is the future of waste!

What is recycling then?

Then I pondered, if absolutely everything that is either thrown into a bin or a recycling box, at my home, is being managed sustainably why then doesn’t NELC come up higher in the national league tables?

NEWLINCS told me:

Due to the restrictions imposed by the Government, the Council are not allowed to include the waste processed at the Energy from Waste within their recycling rates.

Say that again?

Due to the restrictions imposed by the Government, the Council are not allowed to include the waste processed at the Energy from Waste within their recycling rates.

I thought that’s what you said.

Apparently there are targets set for each council to reduce their waste to landfill via a ‘diversion’ of means.  I can’t find these targets on-line but what I have read is all pointing to it being recycled anyway which is what NEWLINCS are doing.  It’s just recycling by another name.

Conclusion

Councils get a bad rap a lot of the time from the people they serve just because they are the guys at the forefront of the Council Tax but recycling is one area they should be praised for.

Yes it is the council’s responsibility to get our waste reduced and a few years ago the pressure was really on for them all.  If that’s sending it to other processors or plants then in turn it’s actually created new industry and jobs.  You can’t send stuff somewhere it hasn’t got a place to go.  Now it has and locally it’s being managed in very useful ways, all over the country.

As a resident in NEL I’m actually very pleased to know that not only are all the usual recycling materials going to be created into something new but that everything else that can’t be re-used or recycled is being turned into energy.

I’m also pleased that mum’s efforts are not in vain, nor anyone else’s that lives in Rochford.

New business , an industry, and jobs have been created out of ‘crap’, a few years ago, no-one wanted to deal with.  That’s enterprising and something we also need to praise.

When in doubt about your waste – ask.  Find out, I found it really useful to know.  Next time I put my recycling out I know I am doing something good, I’m part of a positive process.

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Big thank you to Jade at Rochford DC and Sharon at NEWLINCS for answering my long strings of questions.