It's Recycle Week!

Posted on: 16 October 2023 in Issue 7

Recycle Week, running from 16th-22nd October, is an annual event designed to celebrate and promote the benefits of recycling. Celebrating its 20th year, Recycle Week was created by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), a registered charity who work with businesses, communities and individuals to achieve a Circular Economy.

Recycle Week focusses on helping people make the right choices with recycling, doing it more often. This year’s theme is – The Big Recycling Hunt – focussing on ‘missed capture’, the items that can be recycled but are commonly missed. When it’s done right, recycling is one of the easiest everyday actions we can all take to reduce our carbon footprint.

We're not trashy!

We have been extremely busy over the last 12 months, identifying opportunities where we can reduce waste, and recycle more. A number of initiatives have already been launched, with many more still to come! These include increasing the number of external mixed recycling bins on campus, increasing the provision of glass recycling facilities, and increasing the provision of battery recycling facilities. If you feel there is room for improvement in any specific area on campus, then please contact our Waste and Recycling Officer, Sam Hay.

Lettuce celebrate zero food waste

We have also introduced separate food recycling collections, for the start of the new term. Waste audits conducted on the University’s waste would often show that around 30% of what was in the general waste was food, which could be recycled. The University is now turning food waste into valuable resources that cut GHG emissions. Historically, our food waste has been collected with general waste and incinerated, whereby heat and energy are recovered. This is better than it breaking down in landfill, which can release potent GHGs into the atmosphere, however, it is not as efficient as a process called anaerobic digestion, where the food waste is broken down in the absence of oxygen to produce gas, which can be used as a renewable fuel. Separate collections for food waste have now been installed for all Halls of Residence and Catering facilities, with the waste sent for anaerobic digestion. The gases are captured as fuel and used to generate heat and energy – this process is 60% more efficient than incineration with energy recovery. The sludge that remains following anaerobic digestion is full of nutrients and is used as a fertiliser, so nothing goes to waste!

Put your waste in the right place

One of the issues around ‘missed capture’ is the confusion about what can be recycled in what bin. The University’s recycling and general waste is currently serviced by SUEZ. They collect this in two separate streams – Dry Mixed Recyclables (paper, card, plastic bottles, tins and cans), which they then separate by material and recycle at their recycling facility, and General Waste (non-recyclables), which is incinerated, with energy recovery. To try and alleviate some of this confusion, a trial has been set up to reconfigure internal bins and update signage at Leahurst. Recyclables are now collected as a Mixed Recycling, matching our external collections, making the whole process clearer, simpler and more transparent for staff, students and visitors. This will help everyone to recycle more effectively, keeping recyclables out of general waste and preventing contamination of our Dry Mixed Recyclables. Performance and outcomes will be monitored at Leahurst, before exploring the opportunity to role out across the whole of the University.  

Nothing else mattress 

The University has also recently found a way to recycle old mattresses. Mattresses are kept in use for as long as possible, but when they are beyond repair and have come to the end of their lifespan, they are now disposed of sustainably. The National Bed Federation (NBF) state that approximately 4.8 million mattresses currently end up in either landfills or incineration every year, which is the equivalent to filling Wembley Stadium twice. We now send our old mattresses to an approved company that are on The Register of Approved Mattress Recyclers, and have a 100% guarantee of mattress diversion from landfill, with 92% of the materials from the mattresses being recycled back into UK manufacture, with the remaining 8% being sent for incineration with energy recovery.

Want to know more?

These are just a few examples of what we have achieved over the last 12 months, but we still have big plans going forward. These include exploring ways in which we can recycle a number of other waste streams, including polystyrene and lab plastics, so watch this space!

Our Waste and Recycling Officer, along with a representative from SUEZ, will be in the Guild of Students on Thursday 19th October from 10:00 to 14:00 to discuss all things waste and recycling, so please pop along and say hello, and ask any questions you may have.