Mixed plastic recycling “no longer a choice”

Filed in Waste News by on September 30, 2008 17 Comments
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mixed plastic recycling \'must be embraced\' says Environment AgencyIf you remember, last week I was getting a teeny weeny bit stressed about news from the Audit Commission who were encouraging the urgent building of incinerators.

Today a voice of reason has spoken!

Speaking at a mixed plastics recycling event hosted by London Remade; Martin Brocklehurst, head of external programmes at the Environment Agency said that recycling mixed plastics is “not any longer a choice” but something that the UK must embrace.

He spoke about the case for the collection of mixed plastics, the provision of dedicated plastic sorting facilities and the establishment of sustainable end markets for the product.

To read the full story on Let’s Recycle, click here.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (17)

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  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    The various links indicate new processing facilities and new technology in separating mixed plastic.

    Mainly it is about projected full cycle plastic bottle (HDPE and PET) facilities in North and South Wales for example. The North Wales facility will draw large required supplies from Manchester and Liverpool.

    Regarding the remaining plastic, dedicated Plastic Recycling Facilities (PRF) are proposed. These use superior laser indentification devices (UniSensor) able to separate PP PVC coloured trays etc. These could be add-ons to Mixed Recycling Facilities (MRF, with Infra-Red sensors), also suitable for superstore collection facilities.

    Things are definitely on an improving trend. One of the companies involved Full Circle is Australian.

  2. Di Hickman says:

    Here in California we have a grey wheelie bin for recyclables. Everything goes in the same bin, paper & plastics (all kinds). If one place can do why not another? Might take a while but England will catch up!

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Hi John,
    You seem to know a lot about this; much more than I do. I’m just pleased to hear someone saying something along the right lines after last weeks news 🙂

    Hi again Di; we think your scheme sounds great and let’s hope it will catch on soon over here! Some areas do have better facilities than others; it’s amazing what difference a few miles can make to refuse collections!

  4. Hi again Mrs Green,

    After the plugs for incineration last week. I contacted Nick Higham who did the BBC story. He said that he was only commenting on the Audit Report and said it was a controversial issue but would be doing a follow-up later.

    The proposed developments, from 2010, are for 5 large sites for plastic bottle full cycle use. For other plastic waste, there are 2-3 installations proposed.

    There is a lobby for incineration, including a Euro MP who is sponsored by a waste management company, but they know the public is against it.

    Remember the furore over waste exports. There are now guidelines for exporter to oversee the actual use of the metal/cardboard/plastic bottle waste in these other countries (South East Asia). Material sent must be passed as suitable for reprocessing. It is not an ideal situation but the new facilities should at least remove plastic bottles from waste exports.

  5. There is no doubt that recycling mixed plastics works for making recycling more efficient. As you may know I benefit from such a system at the moment and it makes life a hell of a lot easier. However, mixed plastics from our area are exported to China for processing. Even though I am comfortable with the arguments for this arrangement at the moment, expanded recycling facilities in the UK would be a better solution all round. 😀

  6. Grandma Green says:

    Since we have located containers for plastic recycling we have upped our effort in this sphere. However, I am now bemused by the marking system on containers! I know items numbered 1 or 2 are OK to put for recycling and that items marked 5 are not. During a recent ‘toy excavation’ by little Miss Green some ancient lids came to light – these are marked either 3 or 4. Can they be safely deposited at the local collecting point? Also, I am the current owner of a beetroot container made of a thin (looks like 2-type) plastic that bears no mark at all. Suggestions please!

  7. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Grandma Green,

    I’ve just spent a rather confusing 20 minutes on the phone with your county council. I am told that from the kerbside they will collect rinsed out plastic milk bottles; but I guess you know that already.

    At your local civic amenity site you can put milk bottles and other plastic drinks bottles into the plastic bottles bank. (I expect you have a more local recycling centre for that, too).

    So far, so good. But now the confusion starts.

    Even though some bottles, such as our empty Jif bottle this week, are a number 2 we’re not allowed to put it with our bottles bank. Yet where you are, the guy seemed to think that as long as it was rinsed well you could.

    The main problem at the moment in your area is with contamination; which is why they don’t want yogurt, fast food or margarine containers. They don’t want food contamination spoiling the load – which begs the question why are milk bottles ok??!!

    He indicated that people pretty much contaminate the load anyway, and of course, they are dependant of people ‘doing the right thing’ to get a high quality load. The lower quality it is, the less they can get for it and the low grade plastics are less financially viable.

    I am assured that, regardless of the quality of the load, the plastic still gets recycled. A good load will be shipped out to the Far East to be made into clothing. The last batch from your civic amenity site went to St Helens where it was made into plastic pellets and then turned into corrugated piping for the construction industry.

    Regarding types 3 and 4 on the plastic toys lids; you can’t put these in the local collecting point at the moment. Type 3 is Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) and type 4 is LDPE (Low density polyethylene).

    You can however, at your own expense, send these products to GHS for recycling.

    You can read more about this company in Mr Green’s article here.

    You’re welcome to bring the tops here and I’ll send them off when we’ve gathered a big enough box. In case you’re interested, I’m also sending them my yogurt pots, which are a type 5; PP (Polypropylene). They have the facilities to recycle them.

    Regarding your unmarked beetroot container, you have few options: reuse (some schools / kids art clubs love these sorts of things), take it back to the retailer telling them why you don’t want it (and help educate them in the process) or throw it in the landfill 🙂

  8. Chris Tiller says:

    I want to get rid of various larger plastic items, such as buckets, flower pots, etc. I hate to just take them to the dump. I am trying to locate somewhere in the South London area that could take them for recycling, without sucess so far. Can anyone advise?

  9. Hi Chris – hope Mrs G doesn’t mind me dropping by with a pointer to Impact Recycling, who are based in Hoo (Kent). My geography of that area is very poor so I don’t know how near they are to you…but try their website:


  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Chris,
    welcome to the site and what a great question. Mrs A I don’t mind you dropping your suggestions in AT ALL – that is what the site is all about. I’m glad that when I wasn’t around, somebody else cared enough to answer Chris.

    Chris, if there is a Wyevale garden centre near you (http://www.wyevale.co.uk/), they do a pot recycling scheme. Other than that, they get snapped up on our local Freecycle group, especially if you can store them until the spring…..

    Let us know what you decide to do as you might discover something new!

  11. Sue Cannon says:

    I’ve noticed the council where i live in Solihull is only adding collections of different items one at a time each year. Last year most households got green wheelie bins for grass recycling and green boxes for paper only. This year its black bins for glass and next year will be plastics. The reason they are doing it this way, im sure, is so that each year they can boast that the recycling in Solihull has gone up from the year before. They probably get some reward for doing this. I’m sure these recycling centres and processing plants could improve more but hold back for similar reasons.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Sue, good to see you again. Your story is interesting. I like to think it’s to give residents time to get good habits into place, but I know what you mean about needing to increase yearly figures………

  13. This WRAP report by Paul on the use of mixed plastics has one large section missing – new technologies. MRF & PRF facilities will not allow to recycle all mixed plastics take a PET bottle which has attached an impossible to remove PP top and ring these would still be sorted together. Take MDPE, HDPE, LDPE and PP, olafins these would not be seperated and would be still together. These are better than doing nothing of course, I would suggest new technologies which Paul at WRAP has been made aware of for truly recycling mixed plastics without the need for seperation or cleaning was the way forward, take a look at the site http://www.globallygreenersolutions.co.uk for ideas

  14. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Scott, welcome to the site and thanks for the link to your own website. It seems you have a lot of knowledge about this subject, and when I get chance I’ll be visiting greener solutions to learn more.

  15. Layla says:

    Gosh, I’m glad I’m not the only one confused by all these different types of numbers for recyclable or non-recyclable plastics…

    Best idea: avoid it!!

    Managed to make my first yogurt/sour milk IN WINTER so far!! Thanks to this site!! – So off go the yogurt pots/tetrapaks (I hope…)

    Let’s face it, the tetrapaks are just EVIL!! & so are some other things, like PVC!! there’s a call for PVC ban in the USA (by chej.org and others..) If PVC gets burnt, the dangerous dioxin is formed (can cause cancer)!!

    Ideally you just avoid these really bad things difficult to recycle, if possible… Good to hear there are some options for recycling even the iffier ones..
    probably good to research those well, to see what they actually do..

    I really admire you, Mrs Green, for talking to ‘powers that be’ & finding out where these things actually go..
    Some people at such facilities actually do not know much about some of these things.. and opinions vary, yeah.. probably depends who they sell stuff to.. (?)

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Layla, you’re right; in an ideal world we wouldn’t be buying anything in plastic, but alas, we’re not perfect and we certainly have our weaknesses here at Chez Green LOL!
    Yogurt sounds good – best of luck with that; what was the verdict?
    It’s difficult because of so much conflicting evidence, but I think in the end, you just have to go with whatever suits your lifestyle and your conscience.

  17. Layla says:

    Yeah, we’re only human too.. You make much less waste chez Greens than in our imperfect household, so you’re well on your way… the rant was aimed at powers that be and such, sometimes I get a bit carried away!!

    Yogurt was really nice, basically the same as in the summer.. We call it ‘sour milk’ (but it doesn’t sound bad in Slovenian) cause yogurt is from precooked milk & I didn’t cook it.. we never cook it in the summer.. will try cooking it one day too..

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