This article was written by Monika Bulmer, Marketing and Communications Officer at Re3 Partnership.
The climate crisis is a tough subject. But in the last year, we’ve shown we’re a nation of even tougher subjects. Many things have happened over which we’ve had no control and the climate crisis is one thing we can actively do something about. Every one of us, every day, through small but powerful habits – like recycling.
Across the re3 area, which covers Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham Boroughs, residents are doing already a great job when it comes to recycling. These efforts enabled each of the re3 councils to exceed a 50% recycling rate, but we need to do more, and we need to do it now.
So how can we improve? To put it simply, a staggering number of recyclables still end up in the wrong bin. In fact – every week, an average household places 13 perfectly recyclable plastic items, 3 cans, 2 steel cans and 1 large cardboard box in the residual bin instead of in a recycling bin.
If, together, we could correct those simple mistakes, it could have some significant benefits. For example, if only one household recycled all these missing items every week for a year, it would help to remove 62kg CO2e from the environment. If we think more broadly, and everyone across re3 (Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham Boroughs) recycled all those items regularly, over the course of a year, the impact would help to remove over 12 tonnes of CO2 from the environment, which is an equivalent to taking over 6,000 cars off the road for a year.
We can go much further. When we place recyclable items in the wrong bin, each time, we lose a valuable resource because recycling eliminates the need to extract raw materials. Each tonne of recycled paper saves the equivalent of 17 trees, and each tonne of plastic saves 16 barrels of oil. That’s not all. We are also wasting energy as it invariably takes much more energy to produce items from raw materials than it does from recycled waste. And, of course, missed opportunities to recycle can increase the amount of waste sent to landfill, where waste can create methane gas, that is a significant contributor to global warming.
The re3 Partnership is responsible for managing waste from all households across Bracknell Forest, Reading and Wokingham Boroughs. Only last year, the partnership processed over 180,000 tonnes of waste, including over 25,000 tonnes of recycling collected from residents, directly at the doorstep: clean paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays, tetrapaks, aluminium cans and foil and steel tins. And if you are ever in doubt, we recommend to you our website search or the free app called re3cyclopedia.
All dry recycling that is collected at the kerbside is sent to our Material Recycling Facility where it undergoes a series of mechanical and manual sorting processes. By extracting non-recyclable items, we can ensure that good quality material is sent to recyclers and ensure that our items get recycled and stay in a loop. Our mechanical sort includes a trommel, magnets, air-knives, eddy current separator, several optical sorters and most recently an AI-robot picker, the first of its kind robot installed in England. The waste picker robot, developed by Recycleye Robotics, and introduced with the support of our Contractor, FCC, can perform the physical tasks of identifying, picking and sorting materials at a rate of 55 successful picks per minute. The intelligent picking system is powered by an AI computer vision system, which detects all individual items of waste by material and object.
Finally, we shouldn’t forget about food waste and its impact on the climate. Helping residents to reduce their food waste by providing tips on portioning, better storage or meal planning is our priority but we understand that some waste is inevitable. Fortunately, now all households can recycle their food waste: from bones, egg shells, to plate scrapings or out of date, mouldy produce with an ease. Processing the food waste using the anaerobic digestion is currently the best solution as it allows not only to transform the food waste into a nutritious liquid digestate that is spread on farmlands to help grow more food but also every bit of food waste is used to generate electricity that is fed to the National Grid. Not surprisingly, food waste recycling is perceived as a truly powerful process, as a caddy full of food waste can generate enough electricity to boil 9 kettles or watch 20 hours of your favourite TV show. As a partnership, our vision is to provide residents with a high performing service that benefits the whole re3 community. Recycling our waste, via council collections and other council services, is both an easy way of contributing towards climate change goals and one that everyone can engage in.