What Happens to our Recycling?


As you know from my previous post on Bristol Recycling Transfer Station the recycling is sorted kerbside and into the lorry before being piled around the site.  What happens to it next?


The glass collected at kerbside does not need to be sorted into colours – it goes to a re-processing plant in Newport where it is sorted and recycled into house insulation or in road construction.  Details of the process can be found here.


Cardboard is collected and simply baled to be sold.  By weight it is the material most collected.  Bristol Waste collects between 7-10 bales a day, each weighing approximately 800kg.  It is helpful to the crew if the cardboard is all piled together in our green boxes.

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Baled cardboard ready to go


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Cardboard arrived that morning waiting for the baler









Paper is the only material where our use is decreasing, hence the amount being recycled is decreasing.  EVERYTHING else in increasing.  It is appreciated if we remove the clear film from window envelopes and never put in wrapping paper or any paper decorated with glitter etc.  Paper goes for direct recycling to make more paper.

Plastic, Aluminium and Steel

These are the only materials mechanically sorted at the Recycling Station.  We put them all in the same kerbside box and they are fed into the sorter.

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The mountain of plastic, steel and aluminium from one morning going into the sorter

Magnets take out the steel and then an electromagnetic field removes the aluminium, leaving behind the plastic.  Separately they are baled ready for transporting.

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Mixed metal and plastic going into the very noisy separator


This is the easiest material to recycle and the most lucrative to sell.  Bristol Waste produces 4-5 bales per day, each containing about 12000 cans.  This doubles in the summer and triples during a big sporting occasion such as the World Cup!  At the moment the price of aluminium is lower than usual so it is being stockpiled at the recycling station.  Bristol City Council aims to be paid between £1000 and £1100 per bale.  This works out at around 10p per can!  NEVER throw a can in the black bin.


Plastic makes up the largest proportion of our recyclable waste by volume.  It is left mixed and sold to a local company where it is separated by type.  The machines used by this company cannot recognise black plastic.  As with all waste which is sold the price paid partly depends on the quality of the material and quantity of contamination.

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Coming out of the baler





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From separator to baler







This is mostly made up of food tins and Bristol Waste sells 3-5 tonnes per day at £110-£200 per tonne.  The amount of steel continues to rise, but some companies are turning to aluminium as it is so much lighter and therefore easier to use.

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Clothes and Textiles

Textiles are taken to a local company where they are graded into useable clothes or rags and donated to charity to re-sell.

Small Electrical Items

Useable electrical items are sold for charity and others are stripped to remove valuable metals for re-use.

All batteries can be taken also and the valuable metal re-used.

Food Waste

After a recent campaign to increase food waste going to be recycled and not put in the black bin an increase the amount of food waste by 25% was achieved.

A detailed account of what happens to the food waste can be seen here.  This is a zero waste process as the products are methane for electricity and fertilizer for farms.

food waste

During the process the bags in which the food are placed in our brown bins are removed.  It does not matter what type of bag is used, it will still be removed.  So if you have anything which can’t be recycled such as pet food pouches you’re much better off using those to line your brown bin rather than buying special ‘compostable’ liners as either will be dumped with black bin waste.  Of course lining the bin with newspaper is the best option all around.

As I said in the previous post, I found the tour fascinating and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested.  I am proud to live in a city where waste solutions are taken very seriously and constantly monitored.

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