Recycling collections – questions and answers

Below are answers to questions we are sometimes asked about kerbside recycling collections.

Why do you only take plastic bottles and not pots, tubs or trays?
Currently, most UK reprocessors can only sort plastic bottles and only these have good end-use markets. See separate page on why only plastic bottles for further details.

Why no plastic bottle tops?
Tops are often a different type of plastic to the bottle. They cause problems when baling plastic bottles, as some bottles are so strong with tops on that they cannot be flattened, even in an industrial baler. The pressure from baled bottles with tops on can cause bales to become misshapen or even burst open, so that they have to be baled again, adding to costs and creating handling difficulties.

Can you accept drinks cartons, such as Tetra Paks?
Cartons need to be recycled separately from cardboard as they are made of a laminate of foil, cardboard and plastic. Currently, we cannot accept cartons at the kerbside, but they are taken at most recycling centres. At present, costs would be too great to include another compartment on collection vehicles for cartons, but we continue to keep this under review.

Are there other ways to recycle more materials?
Yes, many other materials are collected at shops and our recycling centres.

Will you add to materials collected at the kerbside for recycling?
As part of our waste management strategy, we continue to look for opportunities to recycle new materials and add to those currently accepted by our collections. We will add new materials when good end-use markets are available and it is affordable to do so.

Can you accept shredded paper?
Yes, please place this in separate carrier bags beside your kerbside box. Please also try to keep to a minimum as it takes up more space on collection vehicles.

Can you accept window envelopes?
Yes, you may recycle window envelopes with your kerbside paper collection. There is no need to remove the ‘window’.

Can you accept can and jam jar lids?
Yes, but because small lids sometimes get stuck in collection vehicles and sorting equipment, it helps if lids can be squashed inside a food can. All can and jam jar lids can be recycled as they are made from steel (test with a magnet to see if sticks), but not screw tops from bottles, which are made from various alloys and are not steel.

Can you accept broken glass/panes of glass?
Please only put unbroken bottles and jars out with your recycling collection, as they will be hand-sorted into different colours for recycling. Please carefully wrap broken glass in paper and put out for disposal with your rubbish. Window panes and plate glass (and Pyrex glass) have a different composition from bottles and jars.  Please dispose of these material in the residual bins at recycling sites, or, where possible consider reuse options such as using old window panes to make cold-frames or cloches in the garden.

Why do you ask for materials to be kept separate in collection boxes?
It helps recycling collectors if materials are kept roughly separate in boxes, as different materials are hand-sorted into different cages, known as stillages, or compartments on collection vehicles. This kerbside sorting takes longer if materials are mixed together, which can add significantly to collection times over the working day, when hundreds of collections are made.

Do I need to use carrier bags to keep recyclables separate?
No, it helps collectors if different materials are simply kept separate by roughly grouping them together in recycling boxes. Although we ask that some materials – foil, clothes and shoes – are separately bagged. Carrier bags can also be used to put out extra material alongside your boxes, but there is no need to use them for other materials within boxes.

Why should only SWP recycling boxes be used?
Only SWP recycling boxes should be used as they have been selected to be strong, the correct size, and designed to hook onto recycling trucks so the crew members can use both hands to sort materials swiftly and efficiently. Other boxes make the work of the crews slower and more difficult, and so these should not be used. If you need replacement boxes because they are broken or lost, or require an additional box as you regularly have extra materials, please contact Customer Services at your local Council to request for these to be supplied.

What if I have too much to fit in my recycling boxes?
Extra materials can be left in carrier bags alongside your boxes. Please do not use black sacks, as these may be mistaken for rubbish, or use other boxes that we have not provided, as others may not be strong enough and will not allow easy sorting on to collection vehicles as they do not hook on to the vehicles. If you need replacement boxes or an additional box, as you regularly have extra materials, please contact Customer Services at your local Council to request for these to be supplied.

Are lids provided for boxes?
We do not provide lids for boxes due to the extra cost of providing these for 245,000 households in Somerset. If you keep your box outside, it does not matter if most materials get wet, although clothing and shoes need to be kept dry so please avoid putting out on wet days or put out double-bagged. To assist with storage between collection, stretch covers are available to purchase. Click here for more information.

Why not have dividers in boxes?
Dividers or separators are made for recycling boxes, but these are not used in Somerset because of the extra cost and because they would not make collections more efficient. Households produce varying quantities of different materials, so it is not possible to provide dividers that would suit all households.

What happens to materials after they are collected?
See how materials are recycled.

Why do you use boxes for recycling collections and not wheeled bins?
There are a number of advantages to box systems over those using wheeled bins. In Somerset, materials are directly sorted from the boxes into separate compartments on collection vehicles. This system has lower costs and produces better quality materials for recycling than co-mingled collection systems using wheeled bins. This is because materials are kept separate from the point of collection and contamination can be left in the box, with a label attached, so that the resident is aware of the problem for future collections.

Wheeled bin systems require materials to be sorted at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) before being sent for reprocessing, which typically have reject rates of 5-15%. At MRFs materials are passed over a series of conveyor belts and split into different streams using a combination of automatic mechanical separation and hand-picking. This is not necessary with kerbside sorting and therefore in Somerset we do not use a MRF. Materials from our kerbside recycling collections are simply bulked up in bays and then bulk-hauled to reprocessors, who pay higher prices due to the better quality of materials supplied.

Because materials are not mixed together in wheeled bins and collection vehicles, box systems are also better able to handle glass, which requires colour separation to achieve the best environmental benefits from recycling.

What do the recycling symbols on my packaging mean?
Some recycling symbols, especially those used on plastics, are not a good guide to whether an item can be recycled, but just shows what type of material is used or are used for some other purpose. A new system of packaging symbols has been introduced in the UK, which provides a better guide and should help overcome confusion caused by other symbols.