I recently visited the Recycling Centre in Chelmsford run by Essex County Council to learn more about what happens to the different items and materials that the public bring for disposal.
With 12,000 visitors every month this is a huge task. The council officers tell me they have recently decided to end their contract with an external company and bring the running of these sites back "in house". They have leased new machinery to help with the task and it will save taxpayers money.
I was told that each month around 1,400 TVs and a similar number of washing machines or dryers are brought to the site. Under the law, producers of certain items like TVs, fridges and washing machines have to pay towards the deconstruction of these items as well as safe disposal of any parts that can’t be recycled. Under the new Environment Act which has recently been voted through parliament this “producer responsibility” will be extended to more products.
Some items are salvaged for re-use, books are sold in bulk on line, metals are sorted as the more precious commodities like aluminium and copper wire will be sold for higher prices if they are not mixed in with others. Wood is sent to be made into chipboard. Tube lighting is stored very safely as this contains mercury which needs to be removed before the rest of the light can be recycled. Cooking oil is sent away to be cleaned and the oil can then be used as a biofuel for the haulage market. Car tyres are often used for sea defences, but it’s best if you ask your garage to take you old tyres rather than bring to the recycling centre.
There is currently no organisation prepared to "off take" hard plastics, which is frustrating.
However, the council are looking to see if a UK contractor can be found. It is best for the environment though if residents dispose of their plastics via the doorstep collection as this minimises journeys by road.
The council are also looking for a contractor to take polystyrene as this currently goes into landfill.
Here is some info about the centre, its open 9am to 5pm each day in the summer months. Chelmsford Recycling Centre (loveessex.org)