Beyond the bin: what happens to our recycling?

Norfolk's first permanent food waste collection service gets under way on Monday in Norwich. Environment correspondent JON WELCH looks at what happens to this and all the other material we put in our recycling bins.

Households in Norwich will be disposing of their rubbish in a new way from Monday<OCT18> when the city council's food waste recycling scheme begins.

Black and grey food waste caddies have already been delivered ahead of the launch of the scheme which will see waste collected from 53,000 homes across the city.

The service will collect all food waste from the home, including leftovers from meals and food that has passed its use-by date.

Initially it will be rolled out to households that have their own wheelie bins, with a further 9,000 homes being looked at in the future.

The scheme is the first in the county available as a standard, ongoing service, rather than a trial.

Householders have been given 23-litre food waste caddies, about a tenth the size of a regular wheelie bin, which will be collected every week. They have also been given smaller caddies, designed to sit on a kitchen worktop or in a cupboard, from which they can fill their larger one.

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All the food waste collected will be sent to the Countrystyle Group at Parham, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, and made into soil enhancer for use in the UK.

It is estimated that the new scheme will divert an extra 6,500 tonnes from landfill each year, and boost the city's recycling rates to at least 50 per cent.

Victoria Macdonald, cabinet member for the environment, said: 'It's really exciting that this service is now going live to well over 50,000 properties in the city.

'People living in Norwich have really taken up the challenge of reducing their waste over the last couple of years, and this will help them to do that little bit more, easily from home.

'While composting the food waste is obviously much better than sending it to landfill, what we really hope the scheme will do is make people think more about what they are buying in the first place, so they are putting less into the caddies to be collected.

'Simple things like making a list before you go shopping, double checking what you've already got in the cup-board or freezer so you don't buy another lot and getting to grips with use-by dates will really help to slim bins across Norwich - as well as saving pounds on your shopping bill.'

Over the past few years, Norwich has cut the amount it sends to landfill by about 10 per cent, boosting its recycling rate to 35 per cent. Initiatives have included supplying blue bins for mixed recycling, keeping the county's only doorstep glass collection and rolling out a paid-for garden waste collection service citywide.

Mixed recycling is collected fortnightly and processed at Norfolk Environmental Waste Services (NEWS) at Costessey. This includes newspapers, magazines, paper, card and cardboard; steel and aluminium cans; and plastic bottles. It is predicted some 8,500 tonnes will be collected during 2010-11.

Nearly 80 people work across two shifts to sort and process the material. Waste is sorted by a number of different methods: V-screens separate two-dimensional objects, including card and paper, from three-dimensional waste, such as bottles and cans; magnets remove steel cans and eddy currents separates aluminium. Optical sorters re-move items such as brown cardboard and some items, including plastic bottles, are separated by hand.

Then contaminant products are removed. This can include a huge range of material from medical sharps to car parts, computer parts and soiled nappies. Dead animals are sometimes found, but probably the most alarming item discovered was a hand grenade which required a bomb disposal team to be called out.

Steel, aluminium, cardboard, plastic and mixed paper are baled separately while newspapers and magazines are kept loose. All the waste is sold within UK markets, apart from PET bottles, which are sent to Belgium.

The plant is able to recycle all but 10 to 12 per cent of the waste that arrives, a figure that would be even higher if people recycled more responsibly.

'Sadly some people don't care what they throw away and what bins they use. There are also enthusiastic recyclers who assume whatever they put in will be recycled, but we can only recycle what there's a market for,' said Steve Jenkins, contracts manager at NEWS.

Garden waste, meanwhile, goes to TMA Bark Supplies at Weston Longville, near Norwich. The plant processes some 40,000 tonnes a year from across Norfolk, and up to 3,000 tonnes from Norwich alone, but the amount brought in daily can vary from 10 tonnes to 250 tonnes, largely depending on the weather and season.

Last weekend's sunny weather brought gardeners out in force, resulting in bumper deliveries of grass cuttings, tree prunings and hedge trimmings.

The waste is shredded and then laid out in long 'windrows' measuring five metres high, seven metres wide and 250 metres long.

It is turned frequently, watered when necessarily and left. 'We accelerate what somebody would do in a compost bin in their garden, but instead of taking six months we do it in 10 to 12 weeks,' said Graham Andrews, managing director.

The compost becomes peat-free growing matter, such as grow-bags and potting compost, and is sold by a number of major DIY chains. TMA also sell and deliver the loose compost themselves.

'I was born in Norfolk, have lived in Norfolk and it's good that a Norfolk company is doing a job for Norfolk, rather than it going out of county,' said Mr Andrews.

'It's a satisfying job because when the compost leaves here it is a useable product. We could sell twice as much as we do if only we had more garden waste.'