What is Recycling?

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Courtesy of S Blue Rock

I don’t need to tell you how big a supporter I am of home recycling.  Okay, I will.

We recycle almost everything in our household – plastics, glass, clothes, paper.  I get such a thrill from adding the various materials to the recycling boxes.

I’m so enthusiastic that I actually scorn at the houses that don’t produce their boxes on collection days, as I walk past them with Mouse.

I’ve got an outside composter that produces some pretty stonking compost for my garden and when a trip to the local recycling center (aka tip) is called for – well you just can’t hold me back, it’s like a therapy session!

So you see, I’m well up for it.

When I was down at my mum’s last month she was busy washing out all her plastics ready to add to the array of recycling bins situated outside the retirement flats, where she lives, when she suddenly came out with –

I’m not sure why I spend so much time recycling, it all gets shipped off to China anyway.

You can imagine the picture of horror my face showed when I heard this.  I simply could not believe it but then it dawned on me I just blindly recycle everything thinking I’m doing good in the world and maybe I shouldn’t.

I decided it was time to do some research into finding out not only where Mum’s recycling in Rochford goes but where ours, in Grimsby goes too.

So today just in case you were any doubt of why we need must recycle and what happens to it – this post is for you.

A tale of two towns

Two small towns, Grimsby is part of NE Lincs and comes under NEL Unitary Council authority (NELC), while Rochford comes under a District council, headed up and supported by Essex County Council.

Grimsby has approx. population of 87,500 while Rochford has 7,600 residents.

In 2011/12 Rochford came in a record 4th from the top in a green/food waste recycling table with 38% of waste being recycled.

In stark contrast NELC came in 165th with 18% of the green/food waste being recycled.

For all recycling (everything that can be recycled combined) Rochford came in 57th with 29% while NELC came in at 344th (ouch) with just 16% recycled.

Overall that put Rochford’s performance 3rd in the league table while NELC came in at 288th out of a total of 352 listed authorities.

Great news for Rochford and rather depressing news for Grimsby.  However the statistics only ever tell one side of the story.  For a start there seemed to be no correlation between small or large towns being top of the league, but it obviously helps the smaller population you recycle for.

It doesn’t take into account housing types, deprivation levels and money available to councils to spend on recycling, in statistical terms the figures have not been standardised in any way.

I wanted to first find out if Mum’s recycling was going to China, so I contacted Rochford Council who came back to me very quickly and informed me the information was out of date.  Yes the recycling started to go to China in 2008 but by 2010 it was being taken to Wales.

Phew, that was a relief.  The data available on where the recycling goes is out of date but I am assured this will be rectified very soon.

NELC’s recycling is rather a somewhat different story.  Where the end recycling goes is stated on their website in a very basic infographic.  Again all recycling is sent out to businesses in and around the UK.

The really interesting part is at the bottom of that webpage when it talks about a company called – NEWLINCS Development Ltd.

NEWLINCS are responsible for overseeing all waste in NEL, once it’s collected from your house – recycled and non-recycled materials.

They bulk and package up the various cans, plastics, and cardboard’s within their processing plant and ship it off to re-processors  around the country.

Then they deal with the waste.

You know the stuff we all chuck in the bin with no thought for what so ever.  Cooked carcasses  toilet paper, nappies, that plastic packaging that comes with a pork chop – you know all that crap.  I wanted to know what happens to that.

I got in touch with them who told me the following:

We operate an Energy from Waste Plant which processes approximately 51,000 tonnes of waste per annum, and produces electricity and hot water which is sold to a local chemical company (Synthomer).

Only a small amount of waste each year goes to landfill – this is primarily when the energy from waste plant is shut down for annual maintenance.

Wow, that’s impressive.  Just think about that for a moment – all those roast potatoes you couldn’t finish on Sunday and those plastic bags with holes in you couldn’t re-use have just been turned into electricity.

Now this is the future of waste!

What is recycling then?

Then I pondered, if absolutely everything that is either thrown into a bin or a recycling box, at my home, is being managed sustainably why then doesn’t NELC come up higher in the national league tables?

NEWLINCS told me:

Due to the restrictions imposed by the Government, the Council are not allowed to include the waste processed at the Energy from Waste within their recycling rates.

Say that again?

Due to the restrictions imposed by the Government, the Council are not allowed to include the waste processed at the Energy from Waste within their recycling rates.

I thought that’s what you said.

Apparently there are targets set for each council to reduce their waste to landfill via a ‘diversion’ of means.  I can’t find these targets on-line but what I have read is all pointing to it being recycled anyway which is what NEWLINCS are doing.  It’s just recycling by another name.


Councils get a bad rap a lot of the time from the people they serve just because they are the guys at the forefront of the Council Tax but recycling is one area they should be praised for.

Yes it is the council’s responsibility to get our waste reduced and a few years ago the pressure was really on for them all.  If that’s sending it to other processors or plants then in turn it’s actually created new industry and jobs.  You can’t send stuff somewhere it hasn’t got a place to go.  Now it has and locally it’s being managed in very useful ways, all over the country.

As a resident in NEL I’m actually very pleased to know that not only are all the usual recycling materials going to be created into something new but that everything else that can’t be re-used or recycled is being turned into energy.

I’m also pleased that mum’s efforts are not in vain, nor anyone else’s that lives in Rochford.

New business , an industry, and jobs have been created out of ‘crap’, a few years ago, no-one wanted to deal with.  That’s enterprising and something we also need to praise.

When in doubt about your waste – ask.  Find out, I found it really useful to know.  Next time I put my recycling out I know I am doing something good, I’m part of a positive process.


Big thank you to Jade at Rochford DC and Sharon at NEWLINCS for answering my long strings of questions.


20 responses to “What is Recycling?

  1. The stuff going to chian gets a bad rap, but don’t forget it is going via ship in containers that would ordinarily be empty (they ship alot more stuff to us that we do to them). Once it gets there it is mostly used as an input into their recycling and therefore does get remade into stuff they sell back to us. Now I’m not defending some of China’s shocking environmental issues, but just to say that it’s not all bad if it does go out there.

    • You’re absolutely right. However I would prefer in all cases that we look after our own rubbish before we have to give it to someone else. What we’ve got to do is to try and slow down that consumption to stop the boats coming over in the first place. I know that’s a huge improbability but everything is connected. Otherwise all this rubbish is just going to go round and round in circles…probably does already actually.

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  3. Hello, thank you for posting such an informative blog.
    Here in Southend we have by far one of the most impressive recycling schemes in the country in terms of what you can actually recycle, in fact the items you can recycle are far greater than Rochford as you have mentioned and our food waste collection is weekly here along with our pink sack collection, we also have corn colored sacks for textiles and shoes, even handbags! So full credit to Southend Council for enabling such a diverse number of items to be recycled.
    What annoys me however is that our recycling rate lags behind neighbouring Rochford, our current rate is 48%, I kid you not I easily recycle 95% of my waste, I will only buy things that can be recycled on purpose and it is a very rare day that I actually put a black bag out (albeit always putting out pink sacks!)
    Excuse me getting controversial but living on a very rough estate with massive unemployment I have noticed very few properties actually bother recycling at all, so it would appear the people with the most times on their hands are the least responsible when it comes to waste disposal, in a block of 12 flats, only 2 of us recycle and this really angers me.
    In contrast the better areas always have their pink sacks and food waste bins out , its almost like they are keeping up with the Jones’ so to speak.
    Personally I feel that the EU is to thank for our tough landfill targets, love them or hate them they have got this very right and when I hear David Cameron saying that the EU environmental targets are too tough it sends chills down my spine,
    Well, all I can say is I will keep recycling as you can only lead by example and the irony of all of this here in Southend – where does our landfill waste go? – Rochford. (Barling to be more precise) so if ever any town had a responsibility to recycle it is us in Southend as we are literally dumping on our excellent recycling neighbours.

    • Thanks for replying, and for reading the post. You’ve brought up a few points there which I’ll try and respond to:
      I didn’t look at Southend but yes as a bigger town I suppose they will have much more trouble getting the recycling rates up, like Grimsby does. What Grimsby lacks is the ‘efficiency’ of being able to recycle so much. Unless it’s an actual can or an actual bottle then the council don’t want it. Or at least if they do, they don’t advertise it and make it clear to residents.
      It’s interesting to note what you said about flat living – that kind of environment should be the easiest way to recycle because it should hold communal recycling points. Much easier than say living in a terraced house.
      How to get people recycling more? Well unless fining people starts to occur it’s not going to happen soon. Either you love or want to do it or you hate and don’t want to do it. Or even – don’t think they should do it, but mention fortnightly bin collections and everyone goes ape!
      Just keep doing what you’re doing because it does make a big difference, targets or no targets.

  4. Hello Sophie thank you for your reply, I am starting to believe that black bin liners should have unique barcodes associated with your property along with recycling sacks, this way people wrongfully recycling items, or not recycling items could then be warned – then fined.
    Here in my block we do indeed have communal bins for food, recycling and waste and its a deep shame to see how many people so rarely use the recycling one.

  5. hi, excellent post! i think “waste” is really something we ll need to look at, and be more aware of… i have started a new thread on my blog about up-cycling (finding another use before reducing to base materials) as i get a lot of comments from friends and art visitors about how much i make from ‘nothing’. it all helps!
    your stats are great for pointing out what a difference can be made 🙂 well done!
    a separate issue is how to maximise re-use of trade waste; because of the need to legislate against fly tipping, a lot of perfectly good materials now have to be shown to go to ‘the tip’ rather than given to charity etc…skip diving is illegal lots of places cos of this, which makes sense but doesn’t, if you get what i mean 😉 i have a friend who lives next to a knitwear factory and he calls me when they put their waste out, and they leave the bins unlocked and we do a taxi run, and then i use the yarns in art for public spaces

    is an example 😉 and give lots out to refugee and children’s projects etc or for knitting animal blankets/beds for the PDSA/no kill shelters.. but technically it’s all illegal! a crazy example of the law of unintended consequences…
    anyway, sorry for tired long ramble (fibro bad!) and thanks for visiting my blog, i am pleased to find yours 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply. I agree with all your points. Waste is everywhere, what we do with it can count for a lot. I enjoyed reading your piece about upcycling. We ultimately have to find ways to reduce all waste before we start to recycle it – it’s a much bigger process than I think a lot of people realise, but hopefully between us we can show people there are alternative being done all over.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog, really pleased to get a new reader 🙂

    • Yes technology waste is going to be an ever increasing problem in the future, a bit like disused cars now. But everything can be turned into something else, it just takes some thinking and planning sometimes.

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