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Bins, recycling and rubbish

Glass, cans and plastics waste journey

Find out what happens to the glass, cans and plastics that you separate for recycling.

Glass, cans and plastics collected in your green bin are a valuable resource. Because we separate it from fibrous materials such as paper and cardboard, there is a low level of contamination from other waste types. When your green bin is collected, the materials are transported to the council's transfer station at Greenhags, Newton Mearns. Here, it is bulked for onward transport to Lowmac Alloys, in Irvine.

The sorting process

When the materials arrive at the reprocessor site, they are fed onto a conveyer belt. There is a hand picking station which removes any contamination. As the materials move along a conveyor belt, steel cans are removed using magnets and aluminium cans are blown off using an eddy current. Steel and aluminium cans are sold onto re-processors in the UK. The plastics are sorted by colour and plastic type. This is usually done using infrared scanners which detect different colours and plastic types.

The remaining glass is then hand-picked for any contaminants as quality is vital. The material is then sifted through layers of mesh to sort into 3 sizes. Again, another magnet is used to remove any metals that may have been missed and lightweight items such as labels and bottle tops are sucked up. It then passes through an optical sensor which assesses density to remove ceramics and an x-ray removes unwanted Pyrex.

The glass goes into a centrifuge which spins at a high speed and crushes it into small fragments. It then goes into a 'trommel' or big metal rotating drum, which sifts it into fine, medium and coarse glass fragments called cullet. The cullet is then sent to a laboratory to be quality checked. It is then ready to be transported to glass re-processors within the UK.

Glass can be recycled infinitely with no loss of quality.

Plastics must be sorted by type because mixing different types of plastic together can cause it to become very weak and brittle, unsuitable for reuse. Have you ever noticed the little triangle arrows with numbers inside them on plastics? These numbers refer to the type of plastic the item is made from.

Once the plastics have been sorted by type and colour, they are either shredded into flakes or melted down and turned into plastic pellets before being sent on to manufacturers to use.

These pellets or flakes are then fed into hoppers or presses which melt them down and inject them into moulds to create new products like plastic fencing, outdoor furniture or new packaging like bottles, tubs and carrier bags.

PET or type 1 plastic pellets can be melted to produce a thick liquid that's extruded through a shower-head like device to create fibrous, polyester strands which are then stretched and woven into fleece fabric.

Recycled plastics use up to 40% less energy than virgin plastics, as well as helping conserve limited fossil fuels and protect the environment.

The problem with plastics

In the UK, we use over 15 million plastic bottles every day. Every year, over one million tonnes of plastic packaging such as plastic trays, plastic bags, pots and tubs is sent to landfill. In fact, the amount of plastic we are using every year is increasing, with us using 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago.

Plastics are produced from oil, and our worldwide fossil fuel reserves are not unlimited. Plastics also break down incredibly slowly when sent to landfill in your general waste bin, and because plastic materials can be difficult to compact, they tend to take up large amounts of space in landfill.

Plastics can also be quite harmful to the environment if disposed of incorrectly, polluting waterways and causing damage to wildlife which often mistakes plastic products for food.

As these resources are all precious to us, it makes sense to preserve them by reusing and recycling plastics as much as possible. Please recycle your plastics food and drinks containers


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