With the aim of clearing up any confusion and dispelling a few myths around waste disposal, recycling and the plastic problem, we interviewed waste management partnership re3. Who better to ask than the experts!

From what to put (and not put) in kerbside bins to what happens to recyclable items incorrectly put in to bin bags and the differences between degradable/compostable plastics to how good are we at things in the UK?

re3 is a waste management partnership between thee local authorities, Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham Borough councils.

While some of the answers given will be specific to households in these areas, others are more general and they all provide food for thought. Lots of ground covered but hang tight, it’s worth a read..!

Do you have a message for the government/big businesses re recycling and waste?

In the light of recently published (December 2018) Government Resources and Waste Strategy, re3 is supporting any efforts undertaken to ensure recyclability of the packaging and simplifying of labelling so residents (consumers) can make informed choice at the point of purchase. In particular, we welcome government’s aspiration to work collaboratively with manufactures and businesses to ensure that all plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

Which items do you see most commonly incorrectly placed in landfill that could be recycled?

1. Glass bottles and jars (should be placed in bottle banks)

2. Textiles (should be taken to the textiles banks)

3. Garden waste (Brown bin or disposed of at the recycling centres)

4. Plastic trays

5. Tetrapaks

Which items do you see incorrectly placed in recycling bins most often?

1. Black plastics

2. Shredded paper – a small quantity can be placed in recycling when contained in the envelope however it’s preferably to compost shredded paper instead.

3. Crisp packets and other plastic wrappers – they are currently not recyclable from the kerbside. There are various public drop off collection points offered by TerraCycle.

4. Kitchen paper towel

5. Toothpaste tubes (they are also collected by TerraCycle)

There is a lot of ‘noise’ around phrases like ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ when it comes to brands and packaging. But it is evident that some of these items will only break down in very specific conditions, and not necessarily in landfill, while some items are only compostable industrially and not at home. How would you explain things?

That’s correct and we notice that manufactures of plastic carrier bags or wrappers are often using these phrases interchangeably but they really shouldn’t be. If you find companies using the terms biodegradable or compostable without explaining what exactly they mean and under what conditions the materials will compost, challenge them on their use of this language and avoid purchasing the product if you are unsure. We recommend using reusable carrier bags as often as possible (preferably made of cotton). It is important to note that all polymer carrier bags can be recycled at the large supermarkets.

Can you explain further the differences between degradable/compostable plastics?

Degradable plastic – is just regular plastic that’s been designed to break into smaller pieces and these small pieces will exist forever. It cannot be recycled at the kerbside or composted at home. – Biodegradable plastic (or bioplastic) – it is broken down by living things like microorganisms and fungi, often required exposure to UV light and warm temperature to decompose. If it ends up in landfill or water streams, where the conditions aren’t right, it may never break down. It cannot be recycled at the kerbside or composted at home.

Compostable wrapper – is a type of biodegradable wrapper that can be broken down in industrial and sometimes home composting systems, depending on what it’s made from. It’s important to ensure that such wrappers are FREE from oil-based materials, plastics or harmful toxins. Most recently, The National Trust Magazine and The Guardian introduced new wrappers made of potato starch that carry the EN13432 industrial certification and “OK to compost at HOME” certification. If such certifications are issued, residents are able to compost such wrappers at home or put them in the green waste bin.

What % of the waste that could/should be recycled currently is? How can we all make a difference?

Our last compositional analysis of kerbside residual waste showed that 10% of waste in the blue bags (residual) could have been recycled via the black boxes or garden waste collection scheme. A further 7% consisted of textiles or glass bottles and jars which could have been deposited at bring bank locations around the borough.

Is it true that all recycling has to be broken down (e.g. cardboard) and fitted neatly into recycling bins or it risks not fitting in the correct compartment of the truck and instead going to landfill?

Flattening cardboard is useful to manage the space in the recycling box as it relieves up to 30% of space volume. Doing so also helps bin crews to transfer content of the box to the wheelie bin that is used to transfer all recyclable to the truck. If you notice that recyclable items are placed in the incorrect side of the lorry, please note down all details and immediately report it to your council so it can be investigated.

What % of waste that you process is incinerated, what % put into landfill and what % recycled? What % leaves the UK?

In 2017/18, 39% of waste from Wokingham Borough was reused, recycled or composted. Over 50% (53%) was sent to the Energy from Waste plant and 8% landfilled. re3 has established sustainable agreements to recycle materials within the UK. Currently, approx. 80% of our recycling is within the country, including all plastic, giving residents reassurance of their recycling efforts and helping to avoid some of the problems around exporting waste materials.

If recyclable are incorrectly placed in bin bags, will they be extracted and recycled later in the process or is their fate sealed?

Unfortunately, all recyclable items that are in blue bags will not get recovered. All residual waste is loaded together and sent either to the Energy from Waste plant or to landfill. re3 runs ‘Bag Splitting’ scheme but only if bagged waste is brought directly to the recycling centres and left at the ‘Bag Splitting’ area.

Introduced as a trial in 2017, our “Bag Splitting” service has now developed into a key part of the recycling centres. When visiting re3 Recycling Centre, residents are asked to separate and deposit their waste in the appropriate area to help ensure that as much as possible is sent on for recycling and reuse. However, any waste that is brought to the recycling centres in bin bags is also divided out to extract recyclable items. This is done in a designated area during quieter times of the day, meaning that site staff is still available to assist those residents who may require help or advice. Since commencing this scheme the recycling centres, staff have opened and processed 1443 tonnes of bin bags. Of this, approximately 37% has been recyclable or reusable content – items that can be reused or re manufactured into new products – and 5% has been recoverable content, which includes energy from waste. So far, the bin bag splitting initiative has diverted 633 tonnes of waste away from landfill – comparable to the weight of over 50 double decker buses.

You sell compost? When and how much for?

Yes, following a successful launch last year, re3grow – a high-quality, peat-free compost will be back on sale as of early March 2019. Made with recycled garden waste sourced in Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham Boroughs, re3grow is an ideal example of circular economy, showing residents how their waste is a resource which is recycled into something useful.

re3grow will be available for residents to purchase at both recycling centres – Longshot Lane, Bracknell and Smallmead, Reading, directly from the “Meet and Greet” teams, at a competitive price – £3.50 per 40L bag or as a multi-deal offer of 3 bags for £10. Each year, re3 collects and processes approx. 25,000 tonnes of garden waste. The material is collected from the kerbside or deposited free of charge at the recycling centres, and then delivered to a treatment facility where it is transformed into compost that meets UK PAS100 accreditation, making it suitable for household use.

What three big changes/innovations are coming in the next 1 – 3 years?

At the beginning of the year, re3 residents saw a major change and enhancement to the kerbside collection, allowing everyone to recycle more plastics (plastic trays, pots and tubs in addition to plastic bottles) as well as tetrapaks and foil. This improvement was introduced seamlessly, was supported by series of communications activities and we’re already seeing a great results as re3 saw an increase of plastic recycling by almost 50% in the first few months from the changes. Food waste collection in Wokingham Borough from April 2019 will bring about further changes in recycling rates. re3 has secured agreement to recycle food waste from re3 area into renewable energy and a nutrient-rich bio fertiliser. Throughout 2018 there was further success of re-use scheme available to residents in the recycling centres at Longshot Lane in Bracknell and Smallmead in Reading. At the moment, re3 works with Sue Ryder and Reading based company, Precycle to give items a second home and this project allows us not only divert a significant amount of waste away from the landfill but also at the same time offers invaluable financial support to the local charity. Last year, the cooperation with Precycle allowed diverting 525 tonnes away from landfill, including 3,440 bikes. In addition, Sue Ryder raised over £11,000 through resell of items donated at the recycling centres. re3 is now looking into further developments of the scheme. re3 is constantly seeking opportunities to recycle more and recycle better. Recently, we introduced the re3cyclopedia app as it became increasingly apparent that members of the public nationwide, want to recycle as much as possible however, are restricted due to local variations in recycling. As a result, the app provides re3 residents with a platform which can quickly give answers as to whether an item is recyclable or not locally. The app is free and available to download from App Store and Google Play Store.

In short, what items should residents in the above areas be putting in their recycling boxes?

All residents in Wokingham Borough, Bracknell Forest and Reading Borough should fill their recycling boxes with following items:

· Dry paper and cardboard

· Plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays – including detergent bottles, cleaning bottles, yoghurt pots, ice cream tubs, fruit or meat trays

· Metal food tins and drinks cans

· Clean aluminum foil and trays

· Food and drink cartons (tetrapaks)

· Aerosols

Please consult your local council’s website for details specific to your area.

Food waste collections are coming to the above areas in April. Why has it taken longer for these local councils to introduce this when compared to some others? How will things operate and what would you say to those who worry about attracting unwanted animals and vermin?

re3 councils are always keen to improve services, increase recycling and divert waste away from landfill. Introducing food waste treatment is another improvement in line with this journey.

In Wokingham food waste collections will be alongside existing weekly blue bag and mixed recycling collections. Residents will be asked to leave the outdoor food waste bin at the edge of property along with blue bags and mixed recycling boxes. Food waste will be sent to an anaerobic digestion plant, which will break down the waste into biogas and a high quality fertiliser for farms. Food waste that goes to landfill gives off methane upon disintegration – a highly potent greenhouse gas. Using the anaerobic digestion process, we can capture this gas to prevent it entering the atmosphere and convert it into energy to power homes.

The outdoor food waste bin is lockable and made of a hard durable plastic to prevent animals access. It will also help to prevent the issue of animals tearing into blue bags as food will be diverted from the blue bags into containers.

Why can’t households in these areas recycle glass in our boxes yet? Will that come?

Separating glass from kerbside collection would require an additional investment to the Material Recycling Facility, including modifying and purchasing new trucks. The Resources and Waste Strategy identifies a need to ensure that glass is collected separately from paper, so that would complicate any potential collection and might mean that bottle banks are preferred. They certainly help with ensuring that the quality of glass sent for recycling is maintained. It is our intention to manage waste in the most efficient ways possible and our current assessment suggests that collecting glass in separate containers is more cost-effective. re3 area residents are already very conscientious and effective glass recyclers and our bottle bring banks are well used. In addition, by collecting glass in separate containers, we can recycle it into higher grade glass products bringing additional value to our recycling process.

Our thanks to re3 for talking to us.

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.

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