Interesting things about the packaging industry, retailing dynamics, consumer trends and NOA’s insight.

What’s the story behind Recycling ! (Part 1)

Nov 22, 2018 | Corrugated Packaging, Market Research, Packaging, Packaging Research and Analysis, Recycling

We know we need to recycle more. Even if we’re not that interested in recycling, the era of fortnightly bin collections is forcing the most reluctant of us to make an effort. Indeed, with some areas moving to monthly bin collections, the pressure is even greater to recycle our waste.

At NOA we take a keen interest in anything that affects the paper packaging industry – after all, we’re in the business of packaging industry analysis – and you can’t have packaging without waste. So where that waste goes, whether it’s to landfill or to be recycled, is important.

Some of the team here at NOA are on a journey to learn more about recycling: the dos, the don’ts, the inconsistencies, and to understand what happens to our waste. Packaging market research out in the field !

Did you know…?

During our research – which is encompassing everything from online research and watching documentaries to visiting recycling businesses – we came across a worrying statistic: not only are there 167 separate waste authorities (generally the local councils) in the UK, there is little or no consistency in policy. Indeed, to the casual observer, it appears to be ‘anything goes’ and what suits one authority doesn’t necessarily suit another.

For example, NOA is based in Oxfordshire, and our local council provides a green bin for recycling, a brown bin for garden waste, a black bin for landfill and a small green bin for food waste. Across the border in Wiltshire, they have a black box for glass and paper, and a blue bin for cardboard and plastic. But there’s no food waste bin and they’ve only recently started recycling a wider variety of plastic than just bottles. The word that springs to mind is ‘disjointed’.

Unsurprisingly, this leaves the public scratching their heads about what they can and can’t recycle.

As part of our research, we first tracked what happens to our food waste. We visited a company in Wallingford, called Agrivert, where they have an anaerobic digester. Here, they separate the food material from its plastic container, and the food is put into giant vats. Put simply, the food breaks down and produces methane which is burned inside a digester, after which electricity is produced; this electricity then goes into the National Grid – a brilliant example of biofuel. What’s more, the remaining pulp is used as a farm fertiliser.

We then looked at what happens to our black bin (landfill) waste. We visited a company near Bicester, called Viridor. They take in black bin waste and burn it, which again powers engines which provides electricity to go back into the grid. From this waste they are able to recover materials, such as metals, for recycling. The residual waste is turned into bricks to be used to make roads. Most importantly, nothing ends up in landfill.

Our most recent visit was to Milton Keynes’ Materials Recovery Facility, owned by the local council and the first purpose-built recycling factory in the UK.

The visit provided a fascinating insight into what happens to our recycled waste, with 16 tonnes being processed every hour.

By far the biggest percentage the facility handles is paper and cardboard, and much of this is still going off to China for processing as UK mills are at capacity and cannot handle this waste.

Not all that arrives at Milton Keynes is processed there. Glass, for example, is taken on to other sites for recycling.

Plastic is widely recycled – unless it’s black. What’s wrong with black? The light sensors can’t pick it up against the background of a black conveyor belt, although technology is evolving which should resolve this.

Having completed our tour, for the time being, we then gave some thought to what we’d discovered. Read all about that in part 2 of this blog…

In the meantime, if you’d like to chat to a team who are passionate about the packaging industry, the waste that is produced and what happens to it, then please do get in touch. At NOA, we specialise in research, coaching and marketing services for the packaging industry and we produce some really exciting and surprising reports on the sector.

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