Something old into something new: innovations in recycling

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Image by Nicolas Raymond, released under a standard Creative Commons License from http://freestock.ca/

By James Carson

This is Recycle Week 2015, and, in the spirit of the occasion, I’ve been recycling some of the wealth of information contained in the Idox database in order to highlight innovative work by local authorities in the UK.

I conducted a search of our database to retrieve recently published items on innovations in recycling. I found about 70 reports and journal articles, which shows not only how much information our database has on recycling, but also underlines the considerable interest that’s attached to the subject.

The importance of recycling

Many of the resources highlight the benefits of recycling:

  • recycling lessens the impact of waste on the environment
  • it helps conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future
  • it reduces the amount of waste going to landfill sites
  • using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses less energy than that required for producing new products from raw materials.

Progress on recycling

The most recent statistics for the four UK nations show a mixed picture on recycling of municipal waste. In England, recycling rates in 2013 rose by  0.1 percentage point on the year before to 44.2%. The comparable figures were 42.2% in Scotland and 46% in Northern Ireland. Wales recorded a more impressive recycling rate of 54%, almost level with Europe’s recycling champion: Slovenia.

The national figures mask a more complex picture. Local authorities are responsible for municipal waste management, and recycling rates vary enormously from one council to another, with the best recycling as much as 66% of waste and the worst as little as 18%.

Innovations in recycling

Many of the recent resources on our database highlight the innovative ways in which organisations are working to reap the benefits of recycling, and to comply with European waste management regulations.

Stackable bins in Newtonabbey

In Newtonabbey, County Antrim, a recycling trial was carried out by a social enterprise to help local authorities meet new EU waste management requirements to separate different types of waste, which came into force in January.

An innovative stackable bin system, known locally as the ‘Wheelie Box’, comprises a 40-litre box with separate compartments for different types of material (a red flap for cans, aerosols and cartons, a green one for bottles and jars, and so on).

The Wheelie Box has been well-received by residents in Newtownabbey, and refuse collectors report that the new system is much easier to use (and lighter on their backs). The scheme is expected to be rolled out more widely to households across Northern Ireland over the next few years.

Pioneering waste management in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Council’s recycling record is outstanding. Its 2012/13 recycling rate was 53.5%, well above the English average. Paper, plastics, glass and cans are collected by the council and processed at one of the largest material recycling facilities in the UK.  Now, the council is building on this impressive performance with the development of a fully integrated waste treatment plant to deal with all household ‘black-sack’ waste.

The facility, due to begin operations next year, will incorporate three separate waste management systems:

  • mechanical treatment technology will extract recyclable materials from residual waste
  • an anaerobic digester will treat any food or organic waste to create renewable energy and a compost-like output for use on brownfield sites
  • an advanced thermal treatment facility will turn any remaining, unrecyclable waste into a gas, which is combusted to generate high temperature steam which then creates electricity in a turbine.

The facility is expected to process 132,000 tonnes of municipal waste each year, and to generate £50m of savings against the cost of landfill.

Recycling cycles in Oxfordshire

In 2013, Oxfordshire County Council won a National Recycling Award for its innovative scheme where discarded bikes are quite literally recycled into roadworthy vehicles.  Old and unwanted bicycles are collected at a local household waste recycling centre (HWRC), then taken to one of the council’s Early Intervention Service (EIS) sites.  It’s there that qualified mechanics teach young people how to strip down, repair and rebuild the bikes. As Materials Recycling World reported, the initiative is not only having a transformative effect on the bicycles:

“One young person attending the Hub repaired six bicycles for friends and family, and had gone from being unemployed to starting an apprenticeship, none of which would have been possible without the supply of bikes from the HWRC.”

These initiatives offer just a flavour of the many innovative schemes devoted to recycling. But they demonstrate that the impacts of recycling are not only environmental, but also social and economic.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on environmental issues – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading*

Going separate ways (dry recyclables in England and Wales)
State of the union (waste management approaches in UK)
Information drive for those non-recycling residents
Stacking up (dry recyclables in Newtonabbey)
All systems go in Milton Keynes (innovative waste treatment plant)
A real circular economy (recycling bikes and providing training for young people)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

3 thoughts on “Something old into something new: innovations in recycling

  1. Pingback: ReGen Villages: is this the future of sustainable living?  | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: An all-round approach: could the circular economy help the world turn the corner on climate change? | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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