Reporter Nick Lakin took a tour of the Materials Recovery Facility at Farington, near Leyland, to find out what happens to our recyclable waste.
In amongst the familiar shapes of plastic bottles and glass jars trundling past on the conveyor belt on their way to recycling heaven, I spotted a pool ball, a TV remote, an extension lead and a cuddly toy.
A colleague dryly pointed out that it was like being a contestant on the Generation Game.
The prizes on offer at Lancashire County Council’s Recycling Centre at Farington don’t quite reach the dizzying heights of useful everday items such as tea makers, fondue sets and soda syphons.
But the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) deals with up to 50,000 tonnes of the county’s recyclable waste a year, and the Brucie Bonuses are a cleaner environment, re-usable material, less rubbish going into landfill sites and more money for local authorities.
Lancashire Renewables Ltd, which runs the MRF and is owned by Lancashire County Council, is also in the early stages of turning low value hard plastics such as garden and office furniture into roadside kerbstones.
If the pilot in Ribbleton, near Preston, is successful it could potentially be used to make other types of street furniture.
Given the county handles 10,000 tonnes of this material every year, the scope is huge.
Jon Walters, operations and maintenance manager for Lancashire Renewables, said the ultimate aim was to “save the environment one bin bag at a time.”
“Realistically, every little thing that the householder does as an individual has a major impact on the environment,” he said.
“That means making an informed choice at the supermarkets or the big stores, and trying not to buy items with plastic packaging in the first place if you don’t need to.”
The county council also estimates that if everyone put the right thing in the right bin, we could increase recycling rates immediately by 16 per cent.
Farington opened in 2010 alongside its sister site in Thornton, and receives most of the waste from Lancashire’s 12 district councils. Both sites also deal with residual, or black bag, waste.
At Thornton some of this waste is mechanically processed to remove the organic element, which can be converted into fuel for energy production, called Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), which is sold for use in industrial furnaces.
Other ongoing projects include making planters from recycled wood, reusing bicycles, and reducing the use of single use plastic by its services.
Here’s what happens to some of our recycled material when it gets to Farington:
Magnets are used to extract ferrous metals such as steel, before a further magnetic process which uses a powerful magnetic field called an eddy current separator, extracts non-ferrous metals. In 2017/18 we sent 3,582 tonnes of ferrous food tins, and 727 tonnes of non-ferrous drink cans to be recycled from the MRF.
The MRF separates glass into two different types based on fraction size. It is removed in granulated form and at 25,000 tonnes a year, makes up the largest material (by weight) processed in the MRF.
A laser identifies different types of plastic and a jet of air is then used to push the different types into separate containers. Separated plastics are then baled by material type.
Recycled materials are then sold to around 25 different companies who pick up the sorted and baled material directly from the MRF.
These companies carry out further processing, such as granulating the plastic, so that it can be sold to manufacturers of new products.
Glass can become new glass products, such as bottles, or fish tank ‘sand’, or for use in other industrial processes such as sandblasting.
Plastic can become new plastic products, and can be recycled very efficiently – for example 98 per cent of a plastic milk bottle can be used to make a new plastic milk bottle.
Plastic bottles can be recycled into a wide variety of products including: clothing, toys, chairs and tables, headphones, kitchen utensils, car parts, filling for duvets and sleeping bags, pens and pencils, garden furniture, and of course, more plastic bottles.
Metal can become new metal products.
It takes just eight weeks for a can to be recycled and turned back into a can.
The average household uses 600 food cans and 380 drinks cans each year – each one is 100 per cent recyclable, over and over again into any type of metal product: from a paper clip to a car engine component, an iron to a washing machine – or another food or drinks can.
Jon Walters, operations and maintenance manager for Lancashire Renewables gives us some tips on how we can help at home:
“When people get back to their own homes, and have finished with the product, there are things they can do to really help the process.
“For a milk bottle, if we could just give it a rinse, take the plastic lid off and put that in the recycling box seperately, it really helps the process.
“If people could remove the label and put it in their usual waste stream that that is a really big benefit too.
“For glass, lids off, labels off if possible, and labels off with tins, putting the paper in the regular household waste.
“There’s usually an indicator on the labels, check for that.
“Even if it’s a low grade plastic, if it does say it’s recyclable, we’ll be able to deal with it.
“But if you’re not sure, put it in the normal waste stream, it can still be used for Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF).”
Any residual waste that cannot be recycled ends up in landfill.
Whinney Hill, near Accrington, is the only landfill site in Lancashire which the county council uses for household waste, where it has a contract in place to deposit waste until 2025.
But Steve Scott, head of waste management at Lancaster City Council, said that things could look very different by 2025.
“Changes being discussed by government, such as some types of plastic being banned altogether and the deposit return scheme for bottles, could have a significant impact on the contents of household waste we deal with, with less waste being produced that can’t be recycled or reused,” he said.
“Whatever happens, there will still be some rubbish left over after we have separated what recyclable materials we can, so we will continue to monitor developments within the industry and put in place arrangements to ensure that Lancashire’s waste is managed responsibly and our reliance on landfill reduced to a minimum.”
“The desire for Lancashire and Blackpool is to stop putting things in landfill, you can only make so many mountains and fill so many holes.
“Lancashire is growing in population, using more products, which have to go somewhere and we’re trying to re-direct it away from landfill back into recycling.
“Anything that the individual can do would be greatly appreciated.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to drive waste away from landfill, but there’s going to come a point when all the holes are filled and we have to try and stop now.”
To find out more, Lancaster City Council will be talking rubbish and recycling at a series of roadshows this month.
On Friday, May 11, the council’s waste and recycling team will be setting up stall in Morecambe Library and be available between 10am and 2pm to offer information, advice and top tips on how everyone can do their bit to reduce, reuse or recycle as much waste as possible and answer questions.
A second one will take place in Market Square, Lancaster between 10am and 3pm on Friday May 25.
For more information on waste and recycling visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/bins