A Brief Introduction to Recycling

To stop rubbish pollution by recycling is much harder for society to achieve than the old methods of “use it once and throw it away”. We all realise this but before we get carried away with the idea of “zero waste” and the end of landfills, let’s think for a while about the four essentials of successful recycling.

Like it or not experience has shown that all four have to be in place, and working properly before a stable recycling system can work efficiently and allow investors confidence to lend their money to the entrepreneurs society needs so badly to pick up the challenge and make their green business work profitably for them and at lowest cost to the community.  Waste removal

Each element needs to work properly, if recycling is to happen. To re-state a well-worn truism, recycling is more than simply collecting and sorting waste – it needs to be processed and sold into a stable market for a profit to the operator, as well.

The rest of this article looks at each of these elements in turn.

1. Legislative Framework

A legislative framework of reasonable sophistication is needed to ensure that adequate drivers are present and sufficient stability exists within emerging markets in commodities hitherto thought of as rubbish within any economy. Without laws and regulations which are all about raising recycling rates and minimising landfill, it may not be possible to raise the credibility of many recycling markets being long-term and profitable sufficiently for them to become so. Such faith that government will back recyclers, is needed to kick-start recycling companies to form, and keep it going for long enough for the theory to become self fulfilling; and it seems that passing laws to make it happen is the only way.

2. Collection and Sorting

Until the mid-2000s, recycling was most often been associated with bottle bins and paper banks. These are the so-called ‘bring’ systems. These systems of banks or bins are certain to continue to play an important but proportionately diminishing role in recycling for the foreseeable future.

The number and diversity of recycling banks (from large Household Waste Recycling Centres to community skip bays) needs to and is increasing. This process has been repeating itself for at least the last 15 years. For example the glass manufacturers doubled the present number over the last approximately 5 years. The steel industry intends to have can banks for every person requiring a 5 times growth.

As well as the traditional materials of paper and glass, banks for textiles, plastic and metal cans new methods of working resulting from raised investment levels, are now common. The way forward for “bring’ systems seems to be evolving as these centres take so many different materials and become micro-recycling centres, which provide smaller containers for a range of materials nearer to people’s homes.

Since then, in the UK, kerbside collections (with separate containers supplied by the collection contractor) have been introduced in most areas along with alternating fortnightly collections of residual and green waste. The wastes collected in the recyclates bin cover a range of materials. These collections are described as source segregated clean materials.

As the number of recyclate streams has increased so has the complexity of rubbish pollution reduction by managing the business of getting the recycled materials streams to the market and transporting them to the user. Source segregated waste still arrives mixed with for example, paper and cans and plastic bottles, and must be further processed to separate those materials, before they can go to market.

Also, never forget that the residual waste will still contain much that can be recycled and in many districts public willingness to recycle will only be sufficient up to 2010 to meet the EU recycling and landfill diversion targets, which if not met will result in hefty fines for the UK government.

So, now the waste industry must start to introduce much more comprehensive processing of the residual (black bag) Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).

To meet that demand modern recycling requires large-scale centralised processing facilities dealing with unsorted waste. These will combine long standing favourites such as magnetic extraction of ferrous metals, separation of glass and other metals prior to composting (aerobic) and digestion (anaerobic – in the absence of air)or incineration for energy recovery.

The large investment required for centralised plants makes them difficult projects to undertake, but the benefit in terms of the volume of waste handled is correspondingly high.

An alternative choice to minimise centralised processing plant requirements is to instigate kerbside (on collection vehicle sorting) for kerbside door-to-door recycling collections. These so-called ‘kerbside’ recycling collection vehicles are also becoming more common, but require conscientious and well trained operators who must work outside in all weathers.

Kerbside collections for recycling materials has a lower cost than central processing, but may not be suitable for many low-density rural districts nor for high-density inner-city areas with concentrations of tower blocks.

In the end, no one model will be suitable throughout the country; and a combination of different collection and sorting methods will be used.

3. Processing

By definition, recycling involves not just collection, but processing of the material before it is re-used. So, for instance, a returnable milk bottle is re-used rather than recycled because there is no intermediate processing before the re-use.


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