So where does our waste go?

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Ever wondered where our waste actually ends up? We took a trip to find out!

On Monday 11th November we took a group of students and staff to visit the Materials Recovery Facility in Southwark. Every year City produces over 500 tonnes of waste from our recycling, food waste and general waste bins which gets collected by Veolia and sorted at these facilities.

We started by finding out what happens to our recycling. At City we recycle glass, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and cans which all go into one bin together. Once it’s delivered to Southwark, the state-of-the-art machinery at the Materials Recovery Facility has to separate it into individual materials. It was incredible to see the different technology that Veolia use to identify the materials and sort it! There’s a short video below about how they do it.

After the materials are separated, they’re baled up and sent on to other plants to be turned into raw materials which can be used to make new products. It was great to learn that 99.18% of our waste stays within the UK and gets directly recycled into new products. The remaining 0.72% of our recycling waste is the aluminium cans which are sent to a manufacturer in Germany.

The items that we put in our recycling bins need to be free from food and other contaminants in order for them to be accepted at the Southwark facilities, but don’t worry, you don’t need to scrub them clean! The general rule is that if you can turn the item upside down, and no food/other things fall out, then it’s fine to go in the recycling.

We also had a look at the Mechanical Biological Treatment plant which handles our general waste (everything which can’t go in the mixed recycling bins or food waste bins) and gets it ready to be sent to the Energy Recovery Facility. Once there, the waste is incinerated to create electricity, and a small amount of solid waste which is recycled for building roads. You can watch how this works in the video below.

 

Our food waste goes to an Anaerobic Digestion plant which gets broken down into a fertiliser (which can be used in farming) and a biogas (which is collected and used to generate heat and electricity).

Due to this process, our food waste bins cannot accept any biodegradable or compostable packaging because they do not decompose properly in the anaerobic digestion plant and therefore become a contaminant. Some local councils send their food waste to a site to be composted instead which means that you may be able to put these items in your own food waste bins at home. It can be a bit confusing using different bins at university compared to the ones you use at home, but you can check the signage on our bins for information on what can go in them.

We’re proud to operate a zero-to-landfill policy here at City, but currently we’re only recycling 50% of our waste. We know we can do much better with your help! Check out our guide to find out which bins you should be using.

Over the next few years we will be rolling out more dual bins and uniform signage across campus so that it’s easier to sort your waste. We hope this will help staff and students to recycle properly. Occasionally one of our dual bins may mistakenly be fitted with only one bin bag instead of two so if you spot this please report it to the PAF Service Desk by calling ext. 7777 so that we can correct it.

We always welcome any suggestions on how we can do better with our waste so please get in touch with us! We had a great morning seeing Veolia’s facilities and it was really interesting to find out about the technology they’re developing to enable them to recycle even more materials. We will be organising another tour to the Southwark facilities again soon, so if you’d like to join us next time drop us an email at sustainable_city@city.ac.uk

 

 

 

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