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Cutbacks without compromise

More for less appears to be the Government’s current message when it comes to waste management. On the one hand, we can’t go a day without hearing about public sector cutbacks, and on the other, we are told that the frequency and quality of waste collections must increase – something which will surely come with a price tag.

The Government’s call for weekly collections, instead of bi-weekly, may leave many local authorities with a big question mark hanging over their budgets. In fact, finding this money may be easier than they think.

Adopting commingled collections, rather than kerbside sorted, involves a simple two bin solution, meaning that only two collections are needed, rather than separate collections for each waste-stream. The ease of the two-bin system also means that people are more likely to put out materials for recycling, without the local authority having to give costly incentives or fines. Collections in urban areas are particularly problematic for local authorities given their high traffic volumes and there is a strong case for streamlining collections in these areas, rather than increasing them.

Thanks to advancements in sorting technology, modern materials recycling facilities (MRFs) can process commingled materials including glass, rather than kerbside sorted, without compromising quality.

It may sound like the traditional kerbside segregated vs commingled debate, however today’s MRFs represent the most economical option, in terms of saving on collection costs and recovering as much recyclate as possible. It’s also important to realise that however high the quality of material collected, it is just one part of the overall recovery system.

In the past, MRFs were tarred with high rejection rates for commingled materials, WRAP reports MRF rejection rates of up to 15%. This is no longer the case. Our 140,000 tonne per annum capacity Recycling and Recovery Centre in Bow, London, is able to achieve rejection rates of just 1-2% and an overall recovery rate between 92% and 99%, dependent on the material. Low rejection rates are important for local authorities, given that the landfill charges with tax are up to £85 per tonne.

The majority of the material our MRF handles is commingled and includes municipal, commercial and industrial commingled material. For this reason, the MRF has to be able to sort a wide range of materials with varying qualities, for example, inner London delivers lower quality papers than outer London, Essex and Kent.

Dealing with such a wide range of materials allows huge economies of scale and simplifies the recovery process, but presents a challenge when it comes to sorting. At our MRF this is met by our state-of-the-art screening technology, including three Near Infra-Red (NIR) optical sorters and a drum separator.

On arrival material travels to a manual pre-sort cabin via bag splitters. Within the pre-sort cabin contaminants and film plastic are removed, the film plastic for recovery. After this, the first set of screens separate cardboard, fines (small material) and glass and then polishing screens separate three-dimensional items, such as drinks containers, for further reprocessing.

A combination of mechanical and manual sorting is required to reach higher qualities. At the heart of the MRF, a large picking cabin negatively sorts the two-dimensional materials by removing all non-fibre materials, such as remaining plastic film and also removes any remaining three-dimensional items.

Our scale and design mean that we can accept the widest range of recyclables and collection systems as possible. We currently recover glass, two grades of paper, cardboard, PET, HDPE, mixed plastics, two grades of film plastic, ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and cartons such as Tetra Paks. Adaptive to the market, the MRF has the potential for further product separation.

Despite its large size, our MRF remains adaptable to the quality and mix of the material it receives. Line speeds and equipment settings are fully customisable and at the start of each shift, staff levels are adjusted to match quality requirements. The flexibility means that the MRF can control output according to requirements, avoiding unnecessary labour and running costs.

The savings can be ploughed back into other parts of the waste recovery chain, such as waste awareness training. Perhaps local authorities should follow suit, saving on unnecessary recycling collections and instead, using the money to protect other frontline services which are under threat of Government cutbacks.

John S Glover is managing director at Bywaters

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