Recycling trial rolled out in Cardiff

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Conveyor belts sorting plastic and paper. Photo Alex Seabrook

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

A recycling trial, which will see thousands of householders separating glass, plastic and paper into different bins, has begun in Cardiff.

Residents of 4,000 homes in Llandaff, Radyr, Pentwyn and Trowbridge can no longer use green recycling bags like elsewhere in the city.

Many of these homes have already received new reusable containers for the recycling trial: a blue caddy for glass jars and bottles, a red sack for plastic and metal, and a blue sack for paper and cardboard.

Collection days will stay the same, and the same vehicle will collect all three types of waste. The trial will last 12 weeks and if it proves successful, the scheme could eventually be rolled out across the whole of the city, as Cardiff council tries to hit its recycling rates targets.

Cardiff’s recycling is sent to Lamby Way, home to the city’s materials recovery facility. This plant plays a huge role in separating out recyclable waste and selling the materials on to be used again.

Staff at the recycling plant will process waste from the trial separately from waste collected normally, starting this weekend. Some waste from the trial has already arrived, and the difference is already clearly visible. While the usual waste from the green recycling bags is dumped on a huge pile, the waste from the trial is already separated.

Contamination rates

The key reason behind the trial is reducing contamination rates. Currently a lot of the green bags the recycling plant receives contain waste that can’t be recycled due to some residents putting the wrong materials in the bags.

Staff at the plant have found a range of odd items people have wrongly tried to recycle, including lightbulbs, an iPad and pillows.

This is hard to separate from what can be recycled when everything is mixed together in one bag. Higher contamination rates means the quality of the material is much worse, and less likely to end up being used again or sold for a good price.

Blockages in the machinery can also happen, with a pillow recently shutting down the recycling plant for an hour.

By getting residents to separate their recycling at the kerbside, and having refuse workers be able to check the rubbish before putting it in the truck, the council is hoping contamination rates will reduce, leading to a better quality material that can be more easily recycled. And better quality material is sold for a higher price, saving the taxpayer money.

After receiving the green recycling bags, workers at the plant gradually place them on the beginning of a complex network of conveyor belts. The first step is to remove the green bags from the waste, with a machine removing some of them and a worker removing what it misses. Then, other plant workers remove any non-recyclable plastic film.

Crushed up glass full of contaminants. Photo Alex Seabrook.

A second machine churns over all the waste, letting the heavier material drop and the lighter material be picked up, separating plastic, paper and glass. The plastic is then sorted into different types, with the highest grade for recycling being HDPE, the type of plastic used for milk bottles.

Paper and cardboard are also separated, with cardboard in increasing demand and fetching a higher price due to the boom in online shopping and home deliveries since the start of the pandemic. But the cardboard must be good quality, and every effort is made to keep it dry and free of any contaminants like plastic, as buyers often haggle with the council on a price.

Glass is crushed up but is currently hard to recycle due to contaminants. It’s mostly used for creating asphalt, and costs the council about £ 40 a ton to be taken away.

However, glass from the trial will be easier to recycle, and could be sold to glassworks for about £ 20 a tonne to be melted down and used again.

Cabinet Member for Clean Streets, Recycling and Environment, Cllr Michael Michael, said: “We really need to get rid of contamination and we have to recycle better and more. We have to get rid of these 24 million green bags a year. This method has worked in other local authorities. Let’s evaluate the trail and we’ll take it from there. ”

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