How waste recycling helps our planet – Zero to Landfill

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Up until now businesses have had to sort all their rubbish for recycling but many didn’t have the time, which is why much of it ended up in landfill. However, help is now at hand!
In Exeter, there is a place called Envirohub, which is the base for Devon Contract Waste. This company has started a ‘Zero to Landfill’ campaign because they would like to see everything recycled so landfill wouldn’t be needed anymore. To help with this, they have spent over four million pounds on a fantastic new waste sorting machine which means businesses won’t have to sort their rubbish anymore.
This machine is huge: it’s over ten metres high, covers the same area as one football pitches and it can sort up to 300 tonnes of rubbish per day — that’s the same weight as thirty seven and a half full size elephants.
So how does it work? Let’s go and see it in action!
Rubbish arrives at Envirohub from all around the county in dustcarts, front-loaders and wheelie bins, where it is all emptied out on the floor. Then it is lifted by this mechanical grabber and dumped into the hopper where it is shredded down into smaller pieces.

From the shredder, the rubbish goes up this belt to a big drum called a trommel screen. This tumbles the rubbish to remove all the soil and dust which gets turned into a fuel called Refuse-Derived Fuel product — or RDF for short. Nothing gets wasted here!Everything else continues on to here. This is called a ballistic separator and it walks everything upwards, but only the flat material makes it to the top. The three dimensional items can’t manage the climb and fall back onto another line below.
The flat stuff now falls onto a belt which goes under the first optical sorter. This is a line of small cameras that can recognise the different types of rubbish. This one is set to ‘see’ soft plastic film and when it sees some approaching, it triggers a jet of air which hits the item as it crosses the end of the belt, blowing it on to another belt behind. It’s very fast but watch closely and you’ll see the plastic flying off. That’s amazing!
This rubbish left on the belt drops down to another below. It then passes the second optical sorter, which is set to ‘see’ all paper and card products. It’s very important that nothing else gets through so just to make doubly sure there are two people inspecting it.
Remember the 3D stuff that didn’t make it to the top of the line earlier? Let’s go and see what happened to it. Here it is, going past a very powerful magnet which attracts all ferrous metal — that’s metals like iron and steel which are magnetic. Everything else won’t be attracted by the magnet so goes on to this eddy current machine which removes all non-ferrous metals such as aluminium — things like drink cans. All the metals are collected in the skips below.
The non-metallic material left on the belt then goes twice past another optical sorter. The first time it puts all plastic on one side and the second time it puts all paper and card on the other. Anything left over will also go into the fuel product or RDF we mentioned before.
Under the machine are all these bays where the different materials end up. The contents are eventually baled and wrapped like this ready to be transported.
What an amazing machine!
So where does it all go? The metal will be sent to be melted down so it can be made into other metal products. Paper will be recycled into tissue such as toilet roll and hand towels. Plastics are recycled into new products; some obvious ones such as carrier bags and bin liners, but also fleeces, umbrellas, children’s toys and even car bumpers. Card is generally shipped to China for recycling. This goes on ships that have delivered products from China into the UK, and need to return anyway, so it is reasonably environmentally friendly.
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