Recycle week 25th Sept to 1st Oct

It’s Recycle Week and from 25 September to 1 October, organisations and individuals across the country are celebrating this year’s theme, ‘Recycling – it’s worth it!’

Recycle Week is organised by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). WRAP, a registered charity, works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.

Take a look at the WRAP website at, where there’s lots of interesting and hopefully inspiring info on WRAP’s 3 priority areas: electronics and electricals; clothing and textiles; food and drink.

Recycling in Northumberland

In 2007 Northumberland County Council put in place a 28-year contract with SITA UK (now Suez) with the aim of recycling 92% of the household waste that was at that time sent to landfill. So, how’s that working out? Last week 12 of us visited the recycling facility operated by Suez at West Sleekburn, near to Ashington, to find out. Although not everyone’s idea of good use of a day off, the visit was fascinating and quite revelatory in some areas too. NCC has a video of the recycling facility that’s worth viewing, on its web-site at:

First, the stats: apparently 98% of the county’s municipal waste has now been diverted from landfill: 42% either recycled, composted or reused; the rest to energy-from waste (aka incineration) at Teesside. So, all good news then? Well, certainly an improvement on the position in 2007, but reliance on incineration, and continued need for land-filling, suggests that more needs to be done, particularly reducing the amount of the stuff that we create in the first place. Also, as our excellent hosts for the visit – Sheila from NCC and Richard from Suez – made clear, there is lots more that we as disposers of waste can do to better segregate our recyclables: of the around 50,000 tonnes of recycling-bin waste that arrives at West Sleekburn every year, up to 30% has to go to landfill because it shouldn’t have gone into a recycling bin in the first place (car engines and dead dogs were examples that they’ve seen at the facility!), or because it has become contaminated usually by food wastes (a real bug-bear for the plant operators – Richard, the Operations Manager, said that stopping food waste being put into the recycling bins would be top of his wish-list).

On the subject of what can and can’t go in the recycling bins, NCC maintains a list on its web-site and it is worth checking this because it does change:

News to me: any cardboard (including heavy corrugated cardboard) can now be placed into the recycling bin. Also we were told that food and drinks cans should not be crushed – non-crushed cans are easier to separate, apparently. We questioned why plastics recycling is limited to bottles only. This is because the vast majority of plastic bottles are high-grade class 1 (PET) or 2 (HDPE), whereas other products such as yoghurt pots, food trays etc are mixed or lower grade plastics, and also are more likely to be food-contaminated (the same reason why aluminium foil and trays can’t be recycled in Northumberland).

On glass recycling, Northumberland is acknowledged to be behind other councils in the UK in that there is no kerbside service. This is a simple matter of finance, but it was pointed out that many European countries also use a ‘bringsites’ approach (recycling bins in car parks etc).

Some wastes cannot currently be recycled or sent for incineration via NCC waste services, for example: sofas and mattresses; large tree-trunks; duvets and pillows. Due to size, these would currently be set for landfill.

The reality of recycling at this level is that: 1) the council needs to communicate a simple message for the public (i.e. specifying plastic bottles, rather than recycling classification number); and 2) as a commercial operation the recycler will inevitably focus on recycled products that have commercial value.

My overriding impressions of the visit to West Sleekburn: a stark reminder of the enormous amount of waste that we generate, even in a sparsely-populated county like Northumberland, and also of how little care some people disposing of waste appear to take in carrying out even very simple separation of recyclable and non-recyclable wastes. But on the up-side, it was remarkable to see the vast amounts of mixed and frankly pretty grotty-looking (and smelling) wastes separated into bales of recyclable steel, aluminium, plastics and paper.

For us as individuals, and collectively in TT and our communities, we obviously need to continue to strive to minimise waste generation, to repair and reuse items where possible, and to properly segregate wastes for recycling. But more than this: we need to help to educate and spread the message about the importance of waste prevention, minimisation and segregation. We should also consider what we might be able to do to deal with some of the ‘problem’ wastes, for example: are there ways of recycling or recovering wastes from sofas, mattresses? Could other grades of plastics, or metal foil, be collected locally and sent to a recycler outside of the NCC-Suez framework?

Last call – visit to West Sleekburn waste recycling facilities

In my post on 7th July I mentioned that we have an opportunity to visit the Council’s West Sleekburn waste recycling facility over by Ashington. We need a group size of between 8 and 12. Can people who are interested in this opportunity let me know by the end of the month please – e-mail to

Tours usually take about 2 hours, including introduction, coffee, and questions and answers. The plant will be in operation during office hours so tours beginning at 10am or 1.30pm are best. The minimum age is 14, there is no maximum age but reasonable mobility is needed, and sensible walking shoes are advised (also, they advise that people with pacemakers need to ask their Doctor’s advice as there are some strong magnets in use).

Let’s talk about waste …

Those of us who watched the screening of ‘Trashed’ before the TT planning meeting in April were left in no doubt that waste is a massive problem. Excessive consumption, excessive packaging, and a culture of disposability – it’s easy to feel despondent. But there are positive things we can do as individuals and as communities to reduce the amount of waste that we throw away. The ‘5 Rs’ hierarchy provides a framework for thinking about how to reduce our waste – the higher the option the better the environmental benefit. So, in order of decreasing importance, the 5 Rs are:

Refuse (that’s the verb, not the noun!)

The challenge for all of us is to change our attitudes and behaviours so that as much as possible of our waste is dealt with at the top of the hierarcy. Of course, putting these steps into practice is helped enormously if there is a strong supporting community waste infrastructure in place. Council waste collection services, recycling bins, etc. are a minimum. For those who are interested in what services Northumberland County Council (NCC) can provide, the waste pages of their web-site are a mine of useful information ( Here you’ll find details of the NCC waste strategy for Northumberland, and information on how much progress has been made over the last 10 years in diverting waste away from disposal by landfill. It’s a positive story, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

NCC also offers to arrange tours of its West Sleekburn recycling facility for interested groups. I’ve been in touch and they have confirmed that they would be happy to host a group from TT. This facility is over by Ashington. Tours usually take about 2 hours, including introduction, coffee and questions and answers. The plant will be in operation during office hours so tours beginning at 10am or 1.30pm are best. The maximum group size is 12, but they ask for a minimum number of 8. The minimum age is 14, there is no maximum age but reasonable mobility is needed, and sensible walking shoes are advised (also, they advise that people with pacemakers need to ask their Doctor’s advice as there are some strong magnets in use).

This is a great opportunity to find out more about how our waste is managed, and maybe identify opportunities to strive for further improvement either as individuals or collectively as TT. For those who are interested in visiting, please let me know at and include some idea of when over the next 3 months you’d be available. Once we have enough takers I’ll make the arrangements.