Do you know where your waste goes?

Machinery sorting waste and recycling in a facility.

98% of Bosinver’s waste is recycled thanks to the team at H&A Recycling Ltd.

I recently heard David Attenborough use the Annie Leonard quote from her book, The Story of Stuff, ‘There’s no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere’. It set me thinking about what happens to our waste when we throw it away in the bin. Where does it go and how does it get there?

Nick and the team at H&A have invited us down to see their operation in Redruth many times, so I recently took them up on their offer of a tour around the plant. As a commercial operation we have to pay for our waste collection and we try very hard to encourage our guests to recycle as much of their rubbish as possible, as it makes reusing the materials much easier and reduces landfill.

H&A have a MRF, pronounced ‘murf’, which is short for Materials Recovery Facility. The definition of a MRF is a specialised plant that receives, separates and prepares recyclable materials for marketing to end user manufacturers. There are two types: a clean MRF which only deals with commingled (or pre-separated) recyclable materials, and a dirty MRF which accepts a mixed waste stream and then proceeds to separate out designated materials through a combination of manual and mechanical sorting.

H&A have a dirty MRF which means that they sort the waste from both the recycling bins and the black waste sacks otherwise destined for landfill. A dirty MRF is capable of much higher recovery rates since 100% of the waste is subject to the sorting process, but it is more challenging, labour intensive and costly to run. Nick had warned me to wear suitable footwear, and it was with some trepidation that I entered the warehouse wearing the obligatory high viz jacket and yellow helmet. It was a warm day and they were sorting waste that could have been destined for landfill. Lee, the MRF supervisor, told me that the maximum time they leave black bag waste unprocessed is 24 hours, as any longer may start cause issues with odour!

A crane operator was digging into the sacks and loading them into a bag splitter which liberates the waste from the black bags on to a conveyor. It then goes off towards a large drum called a trommel which allows small pieces (less than 50mm) to fall through into a pile of ‘fines’. This, like polystyrene and Styrofoam, is not recyclable at the moment. However, it does go on to make green energy in the UK at a site in Plymouth.

The waste is then carried on up a conveyor to the picking station. A number of staff were sorting through the rubbish by hand here. I could not believe my eyes, it was a job from a nightmare! These guys are waste heroes. Each team had a type of rubbish to pick: paper, plastic bottles, cardboard, plastic wrap, glass, cans and scrap and bulky hard plastic items. They then dropped them down a chute to a bay below. When each type of bay was full, it was pushed through on to a conveyor that feeds the big blue commodity baler and squashed into manageable bales wrapped with steel wires to be shipped abroad for recycling. There is a limited amount of commercial recycling done in the UK and many commodities are shipped abroad, often to China or the Far East.

The residual products are conveyed into a type of agricultural baler and wrapped up in 18 layers of plastic to be taken by boat from Falmouth docks to the Netherlands to be burnt to power a steam turbine to generate electricity. Every commodity has a value and products are bid for by brokers in the market. It is vital that products are not contaminated by one another or their value is reduced to the end user.

H&A’s recycling process

This video explains more about the processes H&A use for sorting waste.

I was completely in awe of their achievement in sorting and reusing our waste – 98.2% is currently recycled and it is not a pleasant or easy job. I take my hat off to the dedicated staff and management for making this business such a success.

Our Council domestic refuse collection here in Cornwall does not even attempt to sort the rubbish contents in black bags, it is either burnt in the incinerator at Parkandilick or buried in landfill sites. What a waste!

Do you know where your waste goes?

Share this post:

Red cow with a red heart clipart

Here are some more posts you may like

Action Nan and the rest of the team are always busy writing posts that we think you’ll like – from top tips on where to take the kids, to what’s likely to be going on in the local area when you stay – we’ve got it all in our blog!