Getting technical about recycling

Throwing something in a rubbish bin is a simple action. But when it comes to understanding what happens next to our waste and recycling, we often underestimate the complex processes involved in each stage from collection to reprocessing. Let’s take a closer look at the technical details of waste and recycling in Redbridge.


Our role as a waste collection authority

Redbridge is a ‘waste collection authority’. We are legally responsible for the collection of waste, and are part of a joint waste disposal authority - the East London Waste Authority (ELWA). ELWA consists of Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge. Redbridge collects waste and recycling which is then passed on to ELWA. ELWA’s waste disposal contract operator is Renewi PLC who effectively ‘own’ the rubbish we pass to them. ELWA have a contract with Renewi which lasts until 2027 and ties us into the current disposal system for our waste.  This contract has performed very well at diverting waste from landfill (currently diverting over 99% of waste) which was the policy priority at the time the contract started, but less well when it comes to recycling.


What happens to my rubbish?

Residual waste (i.e. waste remaining after most recycling has been separated) from Redbridge wheelie bins goes to the Jenkins Lane waste management facility where it undergoes Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT). This process reduces the volume of waste by about a third by drying it out, helps further separate materials for recycling and produces Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) that can be used to replace fossil fuels in the generation of energy. The Jenkins Lane waste management facility enables Renewi PLC to increase recycling and prevent waste being sent to landfill. Find out more about the journey of your rubbish through the ELWA waste management treatment facility.


What we currently collect for recycling and why

Because Redbridge is a collection authority we can only collect items that our waste disposal contractor, the East London Waste Authority, (ELWA) accepts for reprocessing.

A fundamental principle of any recycling scheme is that the final outcome should be consistent material streams with the minimum amount of contamination so that bales of clean recycling can be sold on and reprocessed. This ensures the most sustainable use of original materials. To achieve this, collection methodology and sorting capability are key but these vary around the UK.

ELWA, via Renewi PLC, provide the sorting and processing facilities for our residual waste and recycling. Currently the infrastructure is in place for exactly the materials we collect for recycling both at points of collection and sorting. We continually work with ELWA to explore options for increasing the range of materials we collect for recycling.

In Redbridge, we collect 6 core materials listed in The Mayor of London’s Environment Strategy, and more:

  • Paper and card (including envelopes with windows)
  • Tins and cans
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Plastic bottles (rinse, squash, replace the lid to maximise space in your recycling box)
  • Plastic pots, tubs and trays (rinse, no food, stack to make space, no black plastic)
  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Clean foil, including foil trays 

In addition to the kerbside recycling service and ‘on street’ recycling banks, a wide range of items can be taken to Chigwell Road Reuse and Recycling Centre for reuse or recycling including furniture, white goods, rubble, wood, textiles, Tetra Pack, ceramics, hard plastics, bikes, electricals, paint and more. Of everything taken to Chigwell Road site in 2020/21, 67% was reused or recycled.


What happens to my recycling?

Recycling in Redbridge is collected in a split body vehicle; paper and card goes in one side, mixed recycling (plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays, tins, cans and glass bottles/jars) into the other.

Once collected from your home, your recycling goes to the Ilford Recycling Centre. Here the paper and card is tipped straight into a bay for baling and reprocessing. Mixed recycling is processed through a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) which separates the materials from each other by a combination of trommel screens, air separators, magnets and manual sorting. Bales are made of the separated materials and sold on for reprocessing.

When materials are reprocessed, they are washed then pulped or melted so they can be reformed into a new product. Only materials with compatible properties can be recycled together. Melting points and material quality matters, which is why we ask for some plastic, glass and metal items, and not others.


What is ‘contamination’?

Our recycling box service allows a ‘kerbside sort’ to take place which means items we don’t collect for recycling can be left behind with a note to the resident explaining that certain items are not accepted in the service.

Sometimes, the wrong or soiled materials do get through and currently, around 7% of what Redbridge collects as recycling is considered ‘contamination’. ‘Contamination’ refers to items put out for recycling which cannot be recycled through the process at the Ilford Recycling Centre. If an item is found, for example a toy made from hard plastics, which can’t be recycled with the plastic bottles, it is taken out of the stream and sent to an Energy from Waste plant for energy recovery through incineration. Some contamination can be particularly damaging and unwanted, such as food waste, as this can ruin what were otherwise viable materials in the load.


Materials in the spotlight

We are frequently asked about recycling provision for the following items that we do not currently collect for recycling in Redbridge:

Plastic pots, tubs and trays

Since September 2021 we have accepted plastic pots, tubs and trays in our mixed recycling boxes. Please ensure they are free from food waste and that you don't include black plastic as this cannot be seen by laser sort on black conveyor belts at the reprocessing facility.

There are around 21 different types of plastic and much of the plastic we use is designed to be “single use” which is not environmentally friendly. For residents wishing to reduce their single use plastic waste and save money we have some simple steps to help you get started.

Food waste

Redbridge does not currently run a separate food waste collection.

Redbridge’s waste is not incinerated or sent to landfill but rather processed by the Jenkins Lane waste management facility which further separates recyclable materials from the refuse. This includes an organic material which is sent on for composting, and makes use of the biodegradable fraction (which includes food waste) to produce heat which helps power the process. Through this process, food waste in Redbridge is diverted from landfill. However, to reduce the environmental and economic impact of food waste we encourage residents to 'love food and hate waste' by:

  1. Planning what to buy
  2. Portioning correctly to avoid waste
  3. Storing cooked and uncooked food to make it last
  4. Using up leftovers instead of throwing them away
  5. Sharing excess with friends/neighbours/charity instead of throwing away.

Home composting significantly reduces the volume of waste in your wheelie bin. The bits of fruit and veg (skins, peels, stalks) you don't eat, your garden clippings and bedding from vegetarian pets can be turned into a nutrient rich soil improver. You don't have to be a keen gardener, or have a lot of outdoor space to give home composting a go.

Tetra Pack cartons and ‘take away’ coffee cups

Redbridge does not currently collect Tetra Pack/Juice cartons in our kerbside recycling service. These items are composite materials, meaning they are made of more than one thing. Tetra Packs are made from aluminium, card and plastic. Coffee cups are made from card and plastic. Therefore, cartons and coffee cups cannot be reprocessed directly with any of the other materials in the Redbridge kerbside recycling service. We do not currently have the infrastructure to separate them into a single material stream for reprocessing. Tetra Packs and coffee cups can be taken to Chigwell Road RRC. Alternatively, reusable options for coffee on the go are easy to find.


Our goal to reduce waste

We are determined to work with our communities to reduce waste so that there is less of an environmental, carbon and economic cost to the collection and treatment of waste in the borough. A reduction in waste will also improve the local street scene and global environment.

Our Waste Reduction Strategy gives full details on the current position in Redbridge regarding waste, what we need to do to reduce it and how our residents can play their part.

The Neighbourhood Engagement and Education Team in Redbridge offer a range of opportunities to help residents learn more about how to reduce waste and improve the local area.


How do the new wheelie bins help Redbridge reduce waste? 

Prior to the introduction of wheelie bins in Redbridge in 2021, residents could put out an unlimited number of black rubbish sacks every week for collection. This meant that there was no incentive for residents to reduce the amount of rubbish they put out or recycle as much as possible using the weekly recycling service.

Redbridge currently disposes of around 22m rubbish sacks each year which costs £18m. We also collect the 5th highest amount of rubbish in England.  Our current recycling rate of 30% is lower compared with the national average of approximately 45% because:

  • Rubbish disposal figures are so high. Our recycling rate is proportionately lower than it could be if less rubbish was produced overall.
  • Participation in our recycling scheme could be significantly higher.

The introduction of 180 litre wheelie bins means that residents are restricted by how much they can throw away. With limited capacity for rubbish, householders will be encouraged to recycle all they can and reduce waste where possible, to ensure they have sufficient space in their wheelie bin.

Our recycling and waste charter contains in depth information on the current collection services.


The future locally and nationally

Locally, ELWA and its constituent boroughs are already working on options for 2027 when the current waste disposal contract with Renewi PLC expires.

Nationally, the UK Government is in the process of developing several new policies on waste and recycling. These policies could see some of the costs of managing packaging waste being picked up by producers (such as brands and retailers) rather than the taxpayer. The Government is also looking at introducing new requirements for the range of items and materials that residents and businesses should be able to recycle.

The Government is also looking at the possibility of a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers, which will provide new recycling opportunities for residents.

Although many of the possible changes are planned to come into effect in 2023, details of requirements, a transition period or funding have not yet been released. In Redbridge, we will be working with our partner London boroughs and ELWA to understand the new opportunities, requirements and funding proposals so that we can start to plan for our future services as we aspire to reach a 50% recycling rate and reduced household waste figure.