“I don’t need a baler, it all goes in the skip”
says the mistaken foreman, unaware that a simple change in warehouse policy could yield his business numerous benefits.
On the face of things, pleading ignorance has been a human tool used for centurion. Once upon a time we thought the world to be flat and once upon a time we thought tobacco held positive health benefits. Now, people believe that once their waste has been collected, it is no longer an issue.
Such is the professional way in which our general waste and recycling are collected on a predetermined schedule, it is easy to assume that the treatment of this waste is equally routine and performs akin, much like clockwork. In fact, it is a vast operation which involves many waste separations, with materials heading in different directions to different countries and different fates.
So where does your waste go?
Foremostly, it depends what the waste is. Let’s go with four examples for the purpose of this piece; plastic, cardboard (and paper), glass and general waste (in black bin bags). We will also proceed on this tangent with the notion that waste is mostly being separated. In this case, cardboard, glass and plastic are being kept (mostly) separate from general waste, bar a few exceptions that slip through.
Do you know where your plastic waste goes? In the case of a business, it could be going in various directions. Pro-active businesses who consciously separate plastic from their waste stream and then take the extra measure to separate plastic into its various types will know that they can sell it to a recycler. Each of the different plastics, such as LDPE, HDPE & PP fetch varying values in the market for their respective cleanliness or quality.
To capture this value, businesses must use baling equipment to compact the plastic material for ease of transportation. If the material is not collected, separated and sold, it is going in to the skip, which is then going to a yard to be partially sorted, or landfill to be buried, and will likely never have the chance to become anything useful again (unless you count a methane bi-product).
If sold on, it will go through the process of being cleaned, shredded, melted and formed into granules, sold on to a plastics manufacturer and turned into something new.
Cardboard & Paper
Cardboard is paper based, making it a natural product, and as such it can rot and enter the earth again, but it takes a considerable amount of time. For cardboard to rot, you could consider it as the massive wasted potential of a fallen tree. Cardboard is often made from recycled paper or recycled cardboard as it is further down the paper recycling route.
Bleached white printer paper is usually first generation paper, the first product since it was a tree stood proudly in a forest. As it is recycled each time, it loses the bright white attribute and moved towards a greyish colour, before being transitioned into a mulch destined for cardboard production.
Cardboard must be put through baling equipment, much like plastic, to capture the monetary value that it contains. Often the baling equipment can be the same machine, as they are versatile enough to handle multiple materials. Additionally, cardboard and paper must be kept dry to avoid being damaged and contaminated by liquids. A rough guide of 5% moisture is deemed the maximum level of acceptability.
To answer the question of where your cardboard goes after being collected, again you have to consider the markets, the demand and the quality of the material. There are British mills, but often the cardboard will be sent to Asia to be recycled en masse. Transport is also important to factor in, as international shipping strikes in 2014 and 2015 held up hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cardboard for recycling.
Unless cardboard is set aside to be recycled, it will enter the skip and head for the landfill, or to an incinerator, where it is a considerably more flammable product than many others that meet their fate there.
Unique in its nature as being the only widely recycled material that can retain 100% of its quality when recycled. Simply crush glass down to a fine powder and it is fit for re-moulding back into solid glass.
However, to really get the benefit from recycling glass, businesses should invest in a small piece of recycling equipment that can crush glass down to a powder and avoid the issue of all the wasted space (several hundred ml of air per object). If the glass is not being separated for recycling, it can only be assumed that it’s ending up in the skip. Glass does not decompose, and thus should especially avoid the landfill, where it mixes with the general waste. Which leads us on to our final point…
For the British homeowner, a portion of our council tax is put into the pot that pays for waste collection and recycling services. This money pays the workers, fuels the vehicles and accepts the tolls at the landfills, which are quite considerable…
Especially if you are a business. Businesses are not a part of council waste collections and so must have their waste collected privately, often being charged high prices, per bin, per collection. Businesses are financially motivated to minimise the amount of general waste they produce due to the high costs of landfill use and the potential for cash rebates on recyclables. The UK already buries 57 million tonnes of waste a year in landfills, two million more than any other EU country, so there is also the environmental benefit of general waste reduction.
Not all waste goes to landfill; a portion of it is sent for incineration, but the incinerators simply can’t handle the volume that the landfills can. Baling equipment and recycling equipment are often cited as the major factor in a warehouse of yard being able to successfully reduce their general waste and increase their recyclables for sale. These recyclables cover the cost of equipment and turn a profit, as well as the environmental benefits that are available for use as marketing or sales tools to prospective customers.
Your waste practices can be improved, take a look at our services to find out how.