Year 11 students from Roding Valley High School in Loughton took a practical look at recycling on 24 November. Sixteen students and their teachers met up with Ian Almond of Epping Forest District Council and Douglas Howard of Sita to see what happens to some of the thousands of tonnes of recycling sent for reprocessing by Epping Forest residents every year.
Dry recycling, such as tin cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard go to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) operated by the Council’s waste and recycling collection contractor Sita UK in Barking, East London. 30,403 tonnes of recycling collected from households in Epping Forest District is transported to the plant each year.
Roding Valley students had already met Ian Almond when he visited the School earlier in November to talk about waste and recycling generally. The visit to Barking was a chance for a small group of students to see for themselves how some of the District’s household waste is sorted, stored, baled and sent for recycling. The group is then to report back to the rest of Year 11.
Doug Howard is the Processing Site Manager for Sita at the Docklands Wharf facility. Recyclables coming to his plant are separated according to type and quality of the materials. Paper can be recycled many times before the quality of the fibres reaches the end of its useful life. All materials have an intrinsic market value and will move with market trends. According to Doug, aluminium cans are the most valuable commodity having reached £1,000 per tonne before falling in value this year.
Plastic bottles are usually reprocessed into pellets, which can be recycled back into bottles or other plastics according to the quality of the materials. Sita is also experimenting with the conversion of polythene into diesel fuel at a facility in the North East of England.
Douglas was asked why China and India buy much of the recycled material thrown away by the residents of Epping Forest. He explained that these countries have the space to accommodate the big factories needed to reprocess the materials and manufacturers need vast amounts of raw materials. The UK cannot reprocess all the UK recyclate arising as we do not have the reprocessing capacity.
Paper tends to go to Germany but even the waste residue from the Sita plant in Barking is used, going to the Netherlands where it is incinerated to produce electricity.
The students split into two groups but had to hand over their mobile phones and other electronic devices first. The separation process involves a powerful electromagnet which has a side-effect of wiping the memory of any device that comes near it.
Heavy machinery including a massive rotating drum called a trommel, moving walkways, conveyor belts, balers and vehicles share space with people. Teams of operators line conveyor belts where manual sorting is still required. Huge bales of crushed tin cans, plastic bottles, paper and polythene are lined up ready to be taken away.
Douglas Howard thought the students had enjoyed their visit. He said: “I guess most people don’t think about their waste too much once they have thrown it away. I am sure it was an eye-opener for the young people to see the massive scale of the recycling operation. Epping Forest residents are some of our best. They recycle more than nearly any other council area. The students had lots of questions and I hope they will be able to spread the knowledge gained today among their families and friends.”
Ian Almond thanked Sita on behalf of Epping Forest District Council and the students of Roding Valley High School. He said: “With Essex running out of suitable sites for landfill our message of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ becomes more important every day. If we can encourage the District’s young people to adopt good habits and a better understanding of the issues now, we hope they will carry that forward for the rest of their lives. I would like to thank Howard and his colleagues at Sita for a brilliant and educational afternoon.