Where does all my household recycling go?

Mixed household recycling
Separated household recyclables
Electrical appliances

Mixed household recycling

The contents from your clear recycling bags, doorstep recycling box or communal recycling bin will be collected and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Greenwich or Southwark.

The recycling trucks tip the recycling onto the floor of the MRF for a visual inspection for contamination, before it is loaded into the 'bag splicer' which splits the blue disposable recycling bags issued to residents. Unfortunately if food has soiled some recycling it may be sent for incineration.

A variety of machinery such as rotating drums, wind sifters, magnets and infra red sensors are used, followed by manual sorting, to separate out the various materials streams, including paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars, steel cans and aluminium cans. This machinery can be damaged by textiles placed in the recycling.

The separated materials are then baled, ready for distribution to recyclers such as glass and metal smelters and paper mills.

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Separated household recyclables

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

They are traded on the open market, with a preference for facilities in the UK, to be recycled to make new products.

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

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

Material % by weight Typical destination Typical end-product
Paper 17% UK, Korea Newspaper, cardboard packaging
Cardboard 6% UK, Indonesia Cardboard boxes
Glass bottles and jars 7% Yorkshire New glass bottles and jars, road surfacing
Steel cans 2% Leicester Car parts, girders
Aluminium cans 2% Cheshire New drinks cans
Plastic bottles 6% Dagenham, Ireland, China New plastic bottles, piping, fleece
Plastic pots, tubs and trays 4% Principally China Non food-grade items eg carpet, toy casings

Municipal Waste Composition: A Review of Municipal Waste Component Analyses, DEFRA, 2009.

Electrical appliances

Small domestic appliances are collected from the small appliances recycling bins and are taken to Sweeep Kuusakoski, Sittingbourne, Kent.

Find out how to recycle small appliances.

Fridges and large domestic appliances collected by the Bulky Waste Collection Service and are taken as separate loads to EMR, Willesden, London and treated separately due to the hazardous CFC gases contained in fridges.

Each load is registered and inspected, with its weight recorded, at the weighbridge. The fridges undergo degasification: each fridge is manually loaded, its gas can punctured, and the gas and oil is leaked out. The plastic vegetable trays are removed, the body is visually inspected, and then it is put into the shredder. The shredder is essentially 3 big chains in a revolving drum – all sealed to prevent CFC gases from escaping.

Large domestic appliances are tipped onto the floor for visual inspection 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 transported by train to Liverpool for bulking and shipping. High surface area of pieces gives slightly higher return than normal scrap as it can be used to quench the temperature in smelting furnaces. 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


Last updated: 2 November 2017
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