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Where Does Our Recycling Go?

Published on: 20 Mar, 2020
Updated on: 22 Mar, 2020

Recycling – Photo BBC

By Rebecca Curley

local democracy reporter

Many of us might wonder what happens to the contents of our green bins and bags which we carefully separate and put out for fortnightly collection.

In Surrey, mattresses taken to community recycling centres (CRCs), including ours in Guildford, are ending up in Portugal and cans are going to America, according to a report showing where Surrey residents’ recycling is taken.

Guildford Community Recycling Centre at Slyfield. Photo Mandy Millyard

Plastic, paper and card put in recycling bins outside houses are sent over 5,000 miles away to a number of countries for sorting and reprocessing including China, The Netherlands, Turkey, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia and other unspecified locations outside of Europe.

Details of where Surrey’s kerbside recycling and items taken to the recycling centres ended up last year is listed in the End Destinations Report for 2018/19 published by the Joint Waste Solutions group (JWS), which manages recycling performance across the county on behalf of the Surrey Environment Partnership including Surrey County Council and boroughs and districts.

Members of The Green Party have called for more action on recycling in the county following the publication of the report. 

They say there needs to be a “shift to better reuse and recycling in Surrey” and investing in new enterprises to remanufacture in the UK and reprocess the waste here to create jobs and cut carbon emissions. 

Cllr Jonathan Essex, Green Party.

Cllr Jonathan Essex, the party’s county councillor for Redhill East, said: “The council must invest to make it easier to reuse and recycle, and enable better recycling – separating our paper from other recycling, for example, so it can be processed in the UK.”

Surrey’s 11 boroughs and districts all have different ways of collecting and handling recycling.

Asked where specifically Guildford’s recycling goes, what is the policy in this area, are improvements envisaged, and is there anything more residents can do to help, a GBC spokesperson said: “All recycled materials collected in our borough are given to Surrey County Council, who work with JWS Waste. As the materials are passed to Surrey, the recycling becomes their responsibility and will be sent to the locations already mentioned [in the report].

“Residents can help by looking to reduce what they buy, choose things that are packaged in a way that makes it easier to recycle and follow our directions on putting the right materials in their recycling bin.”

But Cllr Essex said there needed to be better separation of recycling so it can be handled more locally. 

He added: “Significant amounts of Surrey’s paper waste is not sent to paper mills because of the risk of glass and plastic contamination. 

“Reigate and Banstead collect paper waste separately, which can be recycled into cardboard in Kent.”

Not all locations are reported, but Waverley showed to be the only one that had all UK-based destinations. 

Elmbridge Borough Council sent its paper and card to nine different locations including China, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Runnymede Borough Council sent its to Turkey and Indonesia.

And SCC sends plastic waste to Turkey and unspecified areas outside of Europe, mattresses to Portugal and mixed cans to Illinois, USA. 

Last year it was reported that plastic bags with UK council logos were found dumped in Malaysia after recycling infrastructure was overwhelmed by demand. 

Sam Peters, Surrey Green Party coordinator, said: “With several Surrey councils sending plastic waste to South East and East Asia, the public cannot be certain that their efforts to recycle at home are as effective as they should be.”

Surrey County Council is the waste planning authority while district and borough councils collect food and garden waste and dry mixed recycling (DMR) from householders. The majority of these materials, including it seems all of Guildford’s, are then passed onto SCC, which, through its contractor, Suez, arranges for them to be sorted and reprocessed.

Food and garden waste is recycled in the UK. DMR is either sent directly to a materials recovery facility (MRF) for sorting or is bulked at a waste transfer station and then transported to an MRF.

These can be here in the UK or abroad and change regularly depending on the demand and availability of space. 

A statement from Joint Waste Solutions said: “Suez seeks to achieve best value for the material it receives and builds resilience into its system, which means using different facilities at different times, resulting in most material staying in the UK but some going abroad. 

“Some DMR continues to be disposed of by district and borough councils, but the responsibility for this will be passed to SCC once the contracts they have with suppliers come to an end. 

“The end destination of the material will change regularly as UK sorting companies seek to maximise the value of the material.”

SCC is currently looking at its Waste Local Plan and last year decided to keep CRCs open rather than closing them to cut costs. 

An SCC spokesman said: “We encourage residents to reduce what they throw away or reuse what they can as this means we’re all creating less waste, which means we can spend less council tax on waste disposal and more on our services.

“We always work with our suppliers to maximise the value of recycling from UK-based reprocessors but these can change due to market forces.”

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Responses to Where Does Our Recycling Go?

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    March 25, 2020 at 11:30 am

    I’m confused.

    Joint Waste Solutions’ own website says: “Joint Waste Solutions was formed to manage waste services for four Surrey councils and develop initiatives to improve recycling performance across the county.”

    But the article says: “…the Joint Waste Solutions group (JWS), which manages recycling performance across the county on behalf of the Surrey Environment Partnership including Surrey County Council and boroughs and districts.”

    So is it 4 DC/BC or 11 DC/BC?

    A GBC spokesperson responded:

    “JWS manage the joint collection contract for four boroughs, Mole Valley, Woking, Surrey Heath and Elmbridge.

    “Surrey County Council manages disposal and recycling of our waste.

    “Surrey Environment Partnership is a partnership of all 11 districts and boroughs, plus the county council.

    “JWS is a separate organisation, with three distinct roles to the different councils and groups: SEP, to which it supplies services; the four boroughs listed above, to whom they provide contract support and other client functions; and Surrey County Council, with a number of functions around communications and data management relating to waste.”

  2. Martin Elliott Reply

    March 25, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Well half an answer from GBC is better than none.
    Its still vague as to what services JWS supplies to SEP, or precisely what communications and data management to SCC.

    Are any of these, and other functions a possible conflict in providing services to only 4 boroughs but to all three layers of the waste chain?

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