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Recycling right

“No plastic bags, nor cling film, nor the film that covers the supermarket purchases. It all gets stuck in the machinery at the MRF, gumming up the works and causing factory downtime plus the expense of repair…”

Liz Sefton, enthusiastic Sustainable St Albans supporter and volunteer, and passionate recycler – writes today’s blog

I have been to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at Rainham. It’s all brilliant, but it is necessarily selective in what it can deal with.

Nonetheless, we are fortunate to have one of the UK’s most technologically advanced Plastics Recycling Facilities (the PRF at Rainham), on St Albans and District Council’s recycling case. 


The MRF takes the contents of our plastics, cans, tins, and glass bins and bags and sorts it, on escalator-like conveyor belts, using tumblers, magnets, magic eyes, and puffs of air. The plastics are then sorted further into their various types.

Each type is made into compressed bales of usable maetrial and sold to the highest bidder for making into new items such as more bottles and tubs, garden pots and guttering. Too much contamination in the bales makes this difficult and that’s where we come in. 

‘Sorted by machine’ sounds easy but it’s not because we include all sorts of things in what we put out for recycling that hamper the process and spoil the end product.

Along with a lot of other households in St Albans and its villages, I could do better. 

What’s To Do First? Wash and Squash! 

It was my New Year’s Resolution to try harder and my personal ‘recycling odyssey’ has resulted in the following mental checklist for use when I sort my rubbish into its rightful receptacles.

Are glass and plastic bottles, cans, and plastic or tinfoil trays and dishes as free as possible of residual food and drink? I swish at the end of the washing up. Vermin and health hazards aside, residue gums up the works and contaminates the end product. 

Contamination degrades the overall quality of material which then might have to be rejected and ends up in landfill. I could have sent it there in the first place – saving it a trip in the lorry to Rainham! 

What’s in? The Good News Is . . . 

No need to remove bottle tops, lids, labels and plastic sleeves on plastic bottles. The MRF will deal with that. 

What’s Out? Landfill (or recycle elsewhere) for this lot! 

No plastic bags, nor cling film, nor the film that covers the supermarket purchases. It all gets stuck in the machinery at the MRF, gumming up the works and causing factory downtime plus the expense of repair.

No ‘mixed material’ items, please. A particular example of this is ‘pop-a-pill’ painkiller packaging. The cardboard box goes in the paper and card box – easy. The silver foil and plastic blister pack MUST, however, go to landfill. Machines at the MRF recognise materials by magic eye.

They are clever but they are not human beings! Silver side up and the plastic of the blister pack is off to contaminate the recycled foil. Plastic side up? Well, you can guess! 

Things like Pringles containers and tetrapaks cause the same problem. 

Disposable Drink containers ..

Disposable drinks cups should also not been seen in the best ordered bins and bags, again because of the mixed materials which are not yet dealt with at the Rainham MRF. (They can usually be recycled through the place of purchase but are best avoided) all together). 

If I have indulged in a bit of recyclables model-making, used my yogourt pot for paint, and a bean tin has been employed as a plant pot or a candle-holder then it’s landfill for them, too. Mixed materials, glue, paint, etc do not a happy bale of reusable recyclables make. 

If in doubt, leave it out…

In the end, “if in doubt, leave it out”, is my mantra when it comes to putting stuff in the recyclables receptacle.

This means:- 

  • No plastic toys,
  • No coat hangers,
  • No CDs and their boxes,
  • No old videos and tapes,
  • No toothpaste tubes,
  • No biros,
  • No credit cards . . . 

I put them in the landfill bin or bag because that’s what those nice people at the MRF want me to do, unless I can find somewhere else to recycle them locally. 

So . . . These few steps should ensure that what I send to the recycling plant (MRF) can actually be reused in some way – and they should remove the need for the MRF having to send any of my unrecyclable stuff to landfill. 

And Now . . . ! 

There is the issue of the paper, the bags, and the wrappings to be resolved. That’s a story for another day!Meantime, I continue to avoid what packaging I can and try to sort the packaging I have to bring home more carefully. It’s a bit complicated but not really time-consuming.

I believe it is worth ‘recycling right’, so that everything possible can be reused to best effect, and I am getting there. Hooray!

Liz Sefton

Useful links to find out more: (recycling, rubbish and street cleaning . . . scroll down and pick from “A-Z of what to do with my waste”; “local recycling’; ‘reducing my waste”)

Lush – for recycling of milk bottle tops

St Albans District Recycling Guide Offers specialist recycling schemes for the hard to recycle items, such as toothpaste tubes and crisp packets. (Search in the “What to do with …” box. Covers just about everything you can think of that you might dispose of with links to advice on what to do with it) – County Council services such as the Household Waste Recyling Centres

If you want to know more about plastic recycling:

2 thoughts on “Recycling right”

  1. Hello Liz. Thank you for the very interesting article about the MRF. You’ve reminded us to screw the lids back onto plastic bottles and jars. But they may be a different plastic to the rest of the bottle, so how are they removed at the MRF? And what happens to them next? Fran

    1. Hi Fran
      I was told by the person I contacted at the MRF that tops could be left on. I gathered this was a matter of convenience for recyclers, so as not to discourage recycling rather than an effort to ensure every scrap of weird plastic gets reused.

      My plastic fresh milk container tops go to Lush in The Maltings, by the way. The reason Lush is able to ensure these are recycled to such good effect is, I was advised at the PRF, because they are already closely sorted by the donors.

      My visit to the PRF gave me comfort that everything that can currently be economically reused is. However, I’m pretty sure that technology and science are not yet up to 100% reuse of what goes to the PRF yet and some items either end up in landfill or reducing the quality of recyclables for further use. They go for drainpipes rather than more bottles, for instance.

      The best bet is to avoid plastic where you can and choose the most basic types where plastic packaging is unavoidable. That means pick clear, not coloured, unsleeved, bottles and un-fancy, white, tubs and cartons that you know are recyclable if possible.

      thanks! Liz

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