Take a tour of Norfolk recycling centre

Jo MaloneIt does want plastic bottles, newspapers, cardboard and cans. It doesn't want plastic food cartons even if the label says it's recyclable. The first open day at Norfolk's Material Recycling Facility is set to help us sort out what's in and what's out in our recycling bins.Jo Malone

We wash our tins, rinse out our cans and carefully squish them into an empty cereal box before putting them out for the recycling collection. Wrong!

The clear strawberry carton has a recyclable label, so does the black avocado packaging, and the green plastic tomato box and the yoghurt carton, so into the recycling bin they go, along with a good handful of shredded paper and envelopes - addresses carefully removed. Wrong again!

Just because it says it is recyclable doesn't mean it can be recycled in Norfolk, where only the items for which it has the sorting machinery and for which there is a resale market are accepted at the Material Recycling Facility (MRF) at Costessey. That's where all the recycling collections in Norfolk are sorted, and this year will celebrate National Recycling Week with an open day on Wednesday June 24 to explain its workings - and its rather fussy diet!

It can take plastic bottles but don't flatten them; tins and cans but don't squash those; cardboard boxes but don't put anything inside them; flattened cardboard and paper are fine. It's not keen on envelopes as the paper mills don't like envelope glue.

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The machinery definitely doesn't like video tapes, CDs or DVDs, lumps of metal or food trays. The human sorters and sifters, responsible for making sure nothing that cannot be recycled stays on the fast moving conveyor belt, particularly don't like the needles and syringes which can end up at the MRF.

Steve Jenkins, site manager for Norfolk Environmental Health Services which runs the MRF, said sharp objects were among the most worrying unwanted items received at the centre, and a large part of the recycling message was educating people about what they could and could not put out for recycling.

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It's hoped the open day will help.

'I do think it is interesting for people to see what happens to their waste, to find out how they should be recycling and how by putting in the wrong things the process can be contaminated,' said Mr Jenkins.

Because of the machinery used, cans put inside boxes end up flattened and cannot be separated, then it's up to the sorters to spot. Such items then end up in landfill.

Mr Jenkins pointed out that the centre has a good market for the items it recycles, mainly because it gives a top service of properly sorted items. So steel ends up in bales in one place, aluminium in different bales, cardboard in separate bales, clear plastic bottles in other bales and different plastic drinks bottles in yet another place.

Some 95pc of the sorted items are recycled in this country with only PET plastic going off elsewhere in Europe.

Currently just over 10pc of the items delivered to the site cannot be recycled and Mr Jenkins is hoping that, with further education to prevent unwanted items arriving, this figure will fall.

Once people see the facility, and understand how the sorting works - flat items go one way, round another, hence the need not to squash bottles and cans as the machines think they are flat and therefore paper - it's hoped they will be enthused to recycle only the items the centre wants.

t The open day is set for Wednesday June 24 as part of National Recycle Week, which runs from June 22-28. Organised by Recycle for Norfolk (all the local councils working together) there are a series of free tours at the MRF throughout the day at 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm. Places must be booked in advance. Call 0844 800 8004 or visit www.recyclefornorfolk.org.uk Applications to join a tour must be received by Wednesday, June 10, 2009.

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