Can it be true that all the paper and card board, metal tins and cans and many different types of plastic bottles, that are picked up from outside your house, then all squashed up together in the collection lorry, really be properly recycled? The answer is a resounding YES!

A group of six Welcombe residents were invited to a fact finding tour of Coastal Recycling’s MRF, (Material Recycling Facility) and this is what we found.

Although Torridge Council collect all our recycling waste and take it to Deep Moor, near Torrington, nothing is put into landfill. Glass is kept separate and sold on straight from there to various glass recycling specialists the rest is processed by Coastal Recycling, part of the Devon Waste Management Group.

Coastal Recycling brings all of Torridge Districts recycling, apart from glass, to its facility at Kenbury, just outside Exeter, and sorts every bit of it, saving 95% for reuse. With land fill charges at over £82 per ton that means 60 tons of waste, that would have cost nearly £5,000 to bury, is reduced to just £240. Not only that but the resources that are saved can be resold, and reused to save on extraction costs of new resources. Although the plants processing costs of about £100 per ton have to be paid for, the resale prices of recovered waste can help cover that cost. Some recovered waste can get as much as £300 per ton whilst other types are given away at almost no cost, if it’s collected from the depot, but prices can fluctuate widely.

The Kenford plant has been upgraded as part of a 1.5 million pound investment that has seen the introduction of a massive undercover sorting machine for household and industrial recyclable waste.

From a huge hopper that is loaded by a wheeled digger with bucket and claw grabber the mixed recyclable waste is slowly fed into a large, fast turning “Bag Splitter Drum” that has moving and static knives that rip apart any bags or clumps of waste and spread it out evenly onto an inclined conveyor belt. This takes it up to the elevated sorting level above the collection bins where the sorted recycled material is dropped through chutes to the separate holding areas.

The first separation is by hand where cardboard is removed and then everything else comes off the conveyor over the ‘Ballistic Separator’. This £160.000 machine has six, four metre long by one third of a metre wide, flat sections that lie side by side and have many five centimetre holes cut uniformly over them. These sections are all set together at a slight incline and each section quickly vibrates independently forwards and back and up and down. The incline and the vibration make materials like tins and plastic bottles roll down and off the bottom end, whilst flat materials like paper are lifted and vibrated up and off the top end of the separator.

Material from the top end, which is mainly paper, is examined and sorted by hand, on another conveyor. Any contaminates are removed such as an odd plastic bag or a rogue can which is saved into small containers to be reintegrated with their same commodity later.

The material dropping off the lower end of the separator is mainly tins, cans and plastic containers which are taken by another conveyor under a magnet that removes the steel cans to a holding bin. What’s left continues to an ‘Eddy Current Separator’ that uses moving magnets and the difference in conductivity between aluminium and plastic to separate all the aluminium cans out. After another quick hand sort it leaves just plastic containers of all shapes and colours. The conveyor belt runs these plastics under a ‘Titech Optical Sorter’ that uses laser technology to identify each container as to its type and whether it is clear, coloured or opaque, like milk containers and also where its position is on the conveyor. This information is transferred to an air gun that has nozzles positioned across the end of the conveyor belt, pointing up and out, just where the plastic drops off. If a container is made of clear or coloured plastic it just falls off the end into a hopper. If it is opaque (usually HDPE) the air gun, having been told the position where that piece of plastic will drop off, gives it a small blast of air to take it over the clear and coloured plastic’s hopper into the opaque plastic’s hopper. This happens amazingly quickly and the optical sorter can be programed to recognise other different plastic types if required.

Now all the separated materials are taken from their hoppers and compacted and bailed into large cubes weighing 650 to 750 kilograms, depending on their type of commodity. That’s about three quarters of a ton and to make a ton of clear plastic PET containers, like drinking water bottles, it takes about 29,000 bottles.

All that is left of the 5% residue are the small pieces of recycling waste that have mostly dropped through the ballistic separators five centimetre holes. This is usually very small bits of paper mixed with bits of plastic like bottle tops and metal, like tin lids. Even if this residue has to go to landfill it can still produce energy, as at Deep Moor where the old landfill sites methane gas is producing 2 megawatts per hour to the National Grid.

Coastal Recycling are very happy with how Torridge residents sort and clean their recycling but we can all help with this process by bearing a few things in mind.

 Do

  • Put out glass separately from other recycling will help no end with the collections
  • Clean plastic bags and plastic packaging like bubble wrap can be put in with household recycling.
  • And here’s a tip. Small items like tin lids often fallout into the residue so put them inside the cleaned out tin and squash the tin a bit to hold it in.

 Don’t

  • Dirty recyclable material stinks and bundles or bags of stuff are hard to undo. Please always wash out your cans and bottles!
  • Never put in string or wire which may get stuck in the machines.
  • Waxed card containers like ‘Tetra pak’ are only taken at local recycling depots.

Every bit of recycling adds up, saving our environment and saving us all a whole heap of money.

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