What happens to our household waste?
In Greater Manchester, most people have four bins at home:
- blue for paper, cardboard & tetrapaks – this gets sorted and recycled
- brown for glass jars and bottles, cans & aerosols, and plastic bottles – this gets mechanically separated in a Materials Recovery Facility, and all of the glass and metal and half of the plastic gets recycled in the UK
- green for food and garden waste – this gets composted in one of three In-Vessel Composters, and sold as Revive compost
- black for everything else – this gets shredded at a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant, where they try to separate out anything that can be recycled before sending it to Runcorn to be incinerated.
These are the bin colours in Manchester, but they can vary in other areas, so it’s best to check your council’s website if you’re not sure.
It’s important to put the right things in the right bins – otherwise whole loads of recycling can become contaminated and end up being burnt in an incinerator or sent to landfill.
For example, the only type of plastic that can currently be recycled in Greater Manchester is plastic bottles. You should definitely avoid putting plastic bags or polystyrene in any of the recycling bins (except the Co-op’s green compostable bags, which can go in the garden and food waste bin).
If you’re not sure what you can recycle, Recycle for Greater Manchester has a handy A to Z of recycling. If in doubt, leave it out!
What does the latest data tell us?
The government publishes annual statistics on waste collected by local authorities. What does this tell us about our household waste in Greater Manchester?
Firstly, the data shows that local authorities collect just over 1.2 million tonnes of waste in Greater Manchester, of which 1.15 million tonnes is from households. This figure has remained fairly constant over the past four years – growing slightly in 2015 & 2016, then falling again in 2017.
The data also shows that the amount of waste sent to landfill has dropped from 28% to 10% over the past 3 years, which might seem like good news. But with recycling rates flat-lining at around 45%, that just means more of our waste is being burnt in incinerators – a small amount in Bolton, and rest in Runcorn. That’s bad news for air pollution and bad news for the climate.
According to emissions data from a recent UKWIN report on incineration and climate change, burning this waste produces over 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – that’s about the same as heating and powering all the homes in the city of Manchester!
What you can do to help
The first step is to try and reduce the amount of waste you produce – by buying less and choosing better quality products that last longer.
The second step is to repair and re-use. If appliances break down, take them to a local repair cafe to see if they can be fixed, or if clothes wear out, try upcycling them (for inspiration, Stitched Up run upcycling workshops). And if you no longer need something, try and find it a new home by donating it to a charity shop or offering it on Freegle or Freecycle.
Some things just can’t be repaired or re-used, so that’s when it time to see if you can recycle them – either in the bins you have at home, or by taking it to your local Household Waste Recycling Centre.
There are also some things we collect to help raise funds for our campaigns, such as unwanted jewellery, old coins & banknotes, stamps, mobile phones, cameras and other electronics – see this page for more details
Check out the Friends of the Earth website for more information on the impact of plastic waste, tips on how you can reduce single-use plastics, and a petition calling on the Government to phase out plastic pollution.
And if you’re annoyed that you can only recycle plastic bottles, why not write to your councillors and your local MP and ask them to expand recycling collections to include more types of plastic?
Let us know how you get on, or if you have any other tips you’d like to share!