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Waste and Recycling

The media is constantly telling us what we should and should not do with our recycling. Some of this information is confusing, some of it is just rubbish, says Anna Cawley, Director of Customer Service, Cawleys. Here Anna gives informed advice on how best to recycle waste.

In a sector that has always been competitive, today’s consumers are increasing the pressure for operators as they not only expect good service and menus, but also high environmental standards, including recycling and packaging minimalisation.

Media culprits

When our national press publishes misleading information, it makes it harder for all of us working in the waste collection sector to encourage the correct recycling behaviours. For example, to explain the rationale behind a new plastic-free aisle in supermarkets, The Sun printed a picture of six different products including crisps, a Mars bar, a jar of fruit, baked beans in a tin, a disposable coffee cup and metal tins with a caption underneath that said: “Here are six items that can’t be recycled.”

Crushed canUnfortunately, the picture and captions in the original article were wrong. The photo and caption were later changed online, but arguably the damage was done. Confusion surrounding which materials can be recycled could have a damaging impact on recycling rates within the catering industry.

Metal is in fact one of the most widely recycled materials in the world. There are two types of can, those made mostly from aluminium, which are largely drinks cans, and those made mostly from steel, which are usually food cans such as baked bean tins. As an infinitely recyclable material, it is both economic and common sense to recycle metal.

Metal is one of the most widely recycled materials in the world.

Baked Beans canTo wash or not to wash

One common question we are asked about recycling baked bean cans is: “Should I wash them out before throwing them away?” The answer to this question is a definite yes please. It’s not that the baked beans inside won’t be burned off in a smelter, it’s that they will rot, smell and contaminate other waste streams while in transit to the final reprocessing destination.

Recycling binsKeep it clean, keep it separate

Unwashed plastic is undoubtedly more of an issue in the catering sector. Washing is even more important for plastic food containers than it is for tin cans. If polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is heavily contaminated with food, it can impact the reprocessing effectiveness. Some PET reprocesses have invested in wash plants to overcome this problem.

Beef burgers on plastic trayPET plastics – ditch the black items

Whole industries are looking to move away from black plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) food trays, which contain carbon black, a fine carbon powder used as a pigment that makes the trays unrecyclable. Instead, caterers can opt to use clear PET trays, which can be recycled in the right setting i.e. washed and stored separately.

Food wasteFood waste

An important focus for catering sector personnel is food waste. Segregation is essential for anaerobic digestion (AD), where food waste is broken down to produce biogas and biofertiliser. By taking the time to separate food waste at the point goods are produced and consumed ready for AD, rather than landfill, we prevent 950kg of carbon per tonne of food waste being emitted into the atmosphere – the equivalent of taking 12 cars off the road for one month.

Coffee cupGood news about coffee cups

Another example of confusion when it comes to recycling is in the coffee market. Coffee cups and coffee grounds can be recycled, however it is important to keep them segregated to maintain their integrity and value. The reason so few cups are currently being recycled is because people either do not have access to an appropriate waste collection service or are confused by stories in the media telling them their cups can’t be recycled, so they don’t bother trying.

Coffee cups and coffee grounds can be recycled.

The truth about your waste

Some recycling decisions are easy, others slightly more nuanced. It is easier to understand what to recycle – or what to buy in the first place, and adopt the right behaviour – when you know the facts.

Sweet wrappersConfectionery wrappers are made from oriented polypropylene (OPP) and, contrary to popular belief, can be recycled, but only in post-industrial environments. So a large manufacturing plant can recycle its OPP but we can’t recycle post-consumer wrappers.

CrispsCrisp packets are made from PET. Technically this material can also be recycled in an industrial setting, however crisp packets from consumers are not recycled.

As a waste management company that only works with businesses, we know for a fact that our customers work incredibly hard to achieve the highest recycling rates, and are constantly on the lookout for new solutions and ways to drive the circular economy.

The bottom line is that it is human behaviour that makes things happen, which is why we need absolute clarity on what can and cannot be recycled. We are in danger of letting our passion about plastic damage the efficient recycling of all the resources we consume. We are also failing to address the major issue of littering.

The most important thing we can all do as individuals is:

  • Segregate our waste resources for collection and reprocessing for second life uses
  • End littering once and for all. 

Cawleys is one of the UK’s leading independently owned waste and resource recycling companies. Established in 1947, the company’s ethos is ‘local recycling, global responsibility’.

From its headquarters in Luton, the company provides waste management services across the UK for hundreds of organisations, from the smallest local businesses to the largest corporate estates such as Canary Wharf, London.

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