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Where does household recycling go?

The contents from your recycling bags, boxes and bins is collected and taken to a materials recovery facility.

Published: 15 December 2020

Last updated: 20 January 2021

Mixed recycling

Everything from your clear recycling bags, doorstep recycling box, or communal mixed recycling bin is collected and taken to a materials recovery facility in Southwark.

At the facility, the recycling trucks tip the mixed recycling onto the floor of the facility for a visual inspection by site staff. If they spot the wrong thing in the recycling (also known as contamination), such as food or polystyrene, the recycling may be sent for incineration an energy-from-waste plant in south London instead.  

The recycling is then loaded into the 'bag splicer' which splits the clear disposable recycling bags, so the contents can be recycled. 

A variety of machinery such as rotating drums, wind sifters, magnets and infra-red sensors are used. along with some manual sorting.  

All these processes sort the mixed recycling into various material streams. These various materials streams include:  

  • paper
  • cardboard
  • plastic bottles 
  • glass bottles and jars
  • steel cans  
  • aluminium cans 

The separated materials are then baled and ready for distribution to recyclers. These can be glass and metal smelters and paper mills. 

Textiles should not be placed in mixed household recycling as it damages the machinery.  

Find out more information about how to recycle textiles in Westminster. 

Micro recycling centres: separately collected recyclables

These recyclables include mixed paper and card, plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars, food tins and drinks cans. 

You can watch animations of how the separated materials are recycled: 

Recyclables are traded on the open market, with a preference for facilities in the UK, to manufactured into new products.

The table below shows the typical end-markets of the materials collected in Westminster and products they can be made into. These may vary depending on demand and quality.  

Approximately 30,000 tonnes of material is collected from households and businesses for recycling and composting every year in our borough.  

Material 

% by weight (approx.)* 

Typical destination 

Typical end-product 

Paper and cardboard 

50% 

UK (Kent), India 

Newspaper, cardboard packaging 

Glass bottles and jars 

30% 

UK (Yorkshire) 

New glass bottles and jars, road surfacing 

Steel cans 

2% 

UK (Wales) 

Car parts, girders 

Aluminium cans 

2% 

UK (Cheshire) 

New drinks cans 

Plastic 

8% 

UK (Dagenham) 

New plastic bottles, piping, fleece 

Food waste 

8% 

UK (Bedfordshire) 

Fertiliser and soil improver 

*The percentages are the approximate proportions of each material type of total household waste. 

Electrical appliances

All waste electrical and electronic equipment must be collected separately from general rubbish to be reused or recycled.  

Small domestic appliances 

Any small domestic appliances that are collected from the small appliances on-street recycling bins and are taken to Sweeep Kuusakoski, Sittingbourne, Kent.

Large domestic appliances 

Fridges and large domestic appliances are collected by the bulky waste service. Fridges are treated separately due to the hazardous CFC gases. 

Each load is registered and inspected, its weight recorded at the weighbridge, so we know how many tonnes of recycling we have.  

Appliances are tipped onto the floor for a visual inspection and for diggers to remove any stray fridges, non-ferrous items and hazardous items such as gas canisters. They are then input to the shredder. 

Outputs from the shredder are dumped into 3 separate piles and processed further: 

  • ferrous scrap is sent to Liverpool for bulking and shipping - the main export destinations are Spain, Turkey and the USA, with some exports further afield to India and Malaysia 
  • non-ferrous scrap is further processed off-site to separate the different metals, with important export markets being Europe, India, China and Korea 
  • CFC gases from fridges are contained and disposed of by incineration. 

More information

How to request a bulky waste collection 

Watch the Westminster Recycling video 

Watch an animation of this process