This month, the BBC reported that Malaysia is no longer willing to accept our recyclable waste; according to local campaigners, much of it was being illegally dumped in landfill or burnt in the open air anyway.
Malaysia’s ruling follows the decision by China to ban waste imports over a year ago. According to the South China Morning Post, the ban has revived the recycling industry in the States – some of which is, ironically, being funded by Chinese companies.
It is therefore more important than ever that the UK takes care of its own waste.
The latest government figures estimate that commerce and industry produced nearly 38 million tonnes of waste in 2017. In 2016, we were still only recycling less than 50% of our overall waste – with a further 25% going to landfill.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the bales of cardboard, plastic or metal that your company produces, or even what happens to your domestic waste once you’ve put it into the correct bin? Hopefully, it will be transported to a materials recycling facility (MRF) for processing, which is actually a surprisingly sophisticated procedure!
Journey through a materials recycling facility
Mixed recyclable waste usually ends up in a MRF where it undergoes an intensive sorting process resulting in separating bales of uncontaminated materials, which can then be sent to manufacturers who can recycle them into new products.
MRFs are largely automated facilities, but manual sorting also needs to take place to remove non-recyclable products. Mixed waste materials are taken along conveyor belts and through screening drums, known as trommels, which separate the lighter materials, e.g. paper. The rest of the materials are taken to a ballistic separator which separates the remaining lighter materials from the heavier ones, e.g. plastic and metals.
The heavier materials continue their journey on another conveyor belt where magnets remove steel cans, and an eddy current picks up the aluminium cans, separating them into different sorting channels. The rest of the waste continues, passing under optical devices that can recognise different types of plastic which are then separated by air jets.
The separate materials can then be compacted and baled and sent to reprocessing facilities where it can be used to make products like cans, bottles, paper, packaging, fleece material for clothing, park benches, road surfaces etc. Ready for the whole process to start again!