This discussion is locked.
You cannot post a reply to this discussion. If you have a question start a new discussion


At present recycling is different in most council areas and always seems to need to be reshuffled into several different commodity heaps on conveyor belts by human hands..

These heaps are then expensively compressing and reloaded onto other lorries for selling on to a purchaser who refines them again  into something more concentrated.

This is then has to be stockpiled before transporting to a final user and the rubbish left over taken by another lorry to the tip.

Well, that is a huge amount of handling and transporting that can be avoided if all the flammable material were burnt in an incinerator to produce electric power and heat.

Surely the government can direct councils to route all burnable rubbish including wood, paper, plastics, packaging etc, to a nearby moving grate power plant with stack scrubbers.   

A separate bin for tins, metals, and glass, tiles etc would still be needed and sorted but only about 10% instead of the 90% now.

  • Household recycling collections vary tremendously all over the country.

    Here in Worcester we have a green recycling bin that takes dry recyclable waste all in together, it is then sorted by machinery and hand. We also have a grey waste bin that takes the waste that cannot be recycled which goes to the incinerator which produces dome electricity. Now, you have to remember that the waste going to the incinerator does actually need to be able to be burnt and needs some calorific value to be able to produce electric.

    Over on the Isle of Man I believe all the waste goes to the power station, so they don’t really recycle anything that can be burnt because it is used for producing electricity rather than being transported off the island.

    The maddest recycling schemes seem to be in the South West with kerbside sorting of the recycling, home owners put out multiple containers with all the recyclable waste already divided, then a big lorry pulls up either multiple compartments and a team of operatives place the contents of the multiple containers into the multiple compartments. It creates mayhem on the roads, particularly at school traffic time, I was driving across Exmoor with my wife, we got stuck in a village bin the queue behind one  of the recycling lorries in a village and pulled into a pub car park to go for a coffee in the pub, when we came out half a hour later and caught up with the queue further down the village the same cars were still behind it.

    As far as I can see the is not a UK policy stating what should be done and how, every Council just seem to do it’s own thing as they see fit.

  • Agreed about every council making things up as they go along - you can put things in our recycling bins (e.g. tetrapak cartons) that neighbouring areas reject, and now everything goes into the one (grey) recycling bin - the green bin is for general refuse. Likewise we're told that the majority of sorting is now done my smart machine (but it can't cope with black food trays apparently).

    Burning has a number of disadvantages. Plastics often produce nasties (e.g. chorine based compounds) that aren't at all easy to scrub out of the flue gasses - less of a problem if you're surrounded by thousands of square miles of mostly uninhabited sea and have a strong prevailing wind to carry the nasties away from what populated areas you have - less easy to handle in inland urban areas where there are major populations centres in almost every direction and air quality is already an issue. Also burning plastics just puts CO2 into the atmosphere pretty much like burning the original oil as a fuel - something that most authorities are doing their level best to reduce, not increase. Of course we'd do better to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging in the first place, but failing that re-using the materials in some way (hopefully many times over, but even a few times helps) seems like a reasonable option.

    I agree that all the transportation can be an issue (especially when stuff ends up being shipped abroad to a dubious end) - hopefully in time more local uses for the materials could be found (but while we insist on importing many of our finished products from the opposite side of the planet - there is a certain inevitability that raw materials must make the opposite journey).

        - Andy.

  • but it can't cope with black food trays apparently

    I believe it can't cope with any black plastics Andy. That's the reason I've been told why we can't pop black plastic plant pots into recycling either. Disappointed

  • Assuming the burning is used to generate power or heat we actually use, the CO2 generated is however similar to that not emitted by the gas or fuel oil that would have otherwise been burnt to do the same.

    Yes PVC is a pain, burning can generate hydrchloric acid gas among other things, but the common domestic packaging materials of polythene and polypropylene are cleaner burning, but identification and separation is not made very easy.

    The high temperature take-away style oven trays that go up to about 180-200C are typically airPEt or C PET and are polyethylene tetrapthalate, often  known as a type of  'polyester'. Now, when really clean it can actually be recycled quite easily but the problem is the contamination with food. On burning it does not liberate anything especially nasty but it needs a lot of air or it burns sooty.

    More controversial are poly-carbonates, sometimes used for water bottles which can decompose to give BisPhenol, which has been linked to health problems, however it still burns nicely to C)2, water and some carbon black.

    Compared to the tonnage of petrol burnt in the UK every year (ref  3000 million litres month, about 30 million tonnes a year, and more or less the same again with Diesel fuel. ), even if we burnt every scrap of plastic we had (ref ~ 5 million tonnes a year), so long as it was done properly in terms of pollution it would be quite a lot less.


  • Yes, I totally agree that burning all flammable  waste to save resorting of anything is ideal.  Metals, glass, ceramics and rubble are the only recyclables.  To this end we only need 2 bins one large for delivery to the base load power station which could deliver about 2% of our electricity and a smaller bin for metals glass etc. which can be sorted automatically on a conveyor belt with minimum human interaction.

  • I thought engineering was about solving problems, not saying "its too hard, let's not bother".

    Plastic bottles are not only recyclable, but useful things can be made from them.  They can be sorted by automated machines.  So why give up and burn them, only to suck more oil out of the ground to make more bottles?

    Paper can be recycled by machines.  Mixed recycled paper will always be low grade, but it can be used for packaging and the like, as an alternative to plastics.

  • I think you rather missed my point. by all means recycle what you can and use the plastics like PET twice, but at the moment far too much ends up in the sea,  or land fill, when burning them would be a lot better than that, and to a small degree incineration saves extracting oil and gas to burn directly, in that yes it uses oil but at least it was at least some packaging first before we burnt it.. In terms of volumes, the plastics industry is a small parasite on the side of the fuel business the really significant saving will be to get away from oil and gas as major fuels.


  • But the cost of recycling and additional transport costs must be taken into account. If we are going to use hydrocarbon fuels like gas, coal or oil to run our power station then the least we can do is to burn rubbish hydrocarbons like plastic packaging first. 

    Somewhere I read that we each create our own weight in rubbish every year so we have 66 million people average weight 50 kg and 1 kg of hydrocarbon produces 10 kWh of energy.  Do the maths and see the saving.

  • Every bit of plastic you burn means more oil has to be drawn out of the ground.  And oil is gradually running out. 

    Every bale of scrap paper that's fed into an incinerator is another tree that needs to be cut down.  They may plant more trees to replace the ones cut down, but it means more acres of monoculture conifers.