Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Let's recycle more!

We have had kerbside recycling in Windsor for quite a few years.  Several years ago, I learned that our local authority, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, won't accept mixed plastics (ie., plastic food packaging other than bottles) for recycling.  At this point I took Greenpeace's advice and started to clean and collect my family's own mixed plastic packaging (yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, ready meal trays, fruit punnets, etc) in anticipation of future recycling services.  My collection of mixed plastics has featured prominently in the local paper and was also used artistically last year, to make a "10%" sign in front of Windsor Castle, in support of the Global Day of Doing on 10 October 2010 (10/10/10).

Other Boroughs across the country now collect mixed plastic - the latest to announce this service is the neighbouring Woking Borough Council, who have a contract with Biffa to recycle all types of plastic (other than bags and films) within their domestic, co-mingled kerbside collection.  Biffa have acquired Greenstar WES and their new mixed plastics recycling facility, opened this month in Redcar, will be able to sort and bale 20,000 Tonnes of mixed plastics each year.

Closer to home, this morning Neil Grundon (a founder member of our Sustainable Windsor group) showed me around Grundon's materials recovery facility (MRF) in Colnbrook.  They are able to sort and bale steel and aluminium cans, paper and cardboard, mixed plastics.  They also collect glass which is used as aggregate in roadbuilding or for recycling.  Grundon recycle household waste from nearby boroughs such as Guildford, Spelthorne and Hillingdon.  I took some of my mixed plastic packaging along with me today, to see how well their sorting process coped with it.

I was delighted to see my carefully laundered yoghurt pots and margarine tubs flying along the final conveyor into the mixed plastics silo, ready for baling.  Black plastics are hard to sort, at present, because an optical process, near infra-red reflectance (NIR), is used for the sorting.  However, these could be separated from the final waste stream in future by an additional sorting machine that is "trained" to work on black plastics.

Recoup, a charity promoting the RECycling Of Used Plastics, publishes an annual report on the collection of plastic packaging from UK Households.  In their latest report, RECOUP reports that mixed plastics (ie., rigid plastic packaging other than bottles) are actively recycled by 120 local authorities in the UK, out of 401 that they contacted.

Despite all this progress in the recycling of mixed plastics nationally, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead seems to be locked in a recycling time-warp!  The Royal Borough's current waste and recycling contractor is Veolia and there is no indication on the Veolia website that they are prepared ever to provide a mixed plastics recycling service to their municipal customers.  The waste and recycling contract for Windsor and Maidenhead is up for renewal this year.  Clearly Biffa and Grundon are competent, commercial partners who should be allowed to tender for this valuable contract.  Will the Council insist on the provision of a wider range of recycling streams from the company that successfully tenders for this valuable contract - or will the business stay with Veolia because they can offer the lowest price?