Talking Rubbish – Dorset Council Recycling Expert Answers Questions In Shaftesbury

Most Shaftesbury households put their waste out each week, but have you ever been confused about what goes in which bin? Next Thursday, a Dorset Council official will answer your recycling-related questions at a Town Hall event.

Marten Gregory will tell his audience that he wants to make sure that Shaftesbury residents recycle as much of their household waste as possible. “I’m the team leader for the Recycling Team at Dorset Council. That role entails overseeing multiple campaigns and projects, mainly aimed at encouraging people to reduce, reuse and recycle more of their household waste,” said Marten.

His colleague’s messages have been well-received and understood. Dorset Council now tops the waste league table. “We have the highest recycling rate of any disposal authority in England – just under 60%,” said Marten. “Shaftesbury has always been very proactive concerning recycling. We are very fortunate across the whole county that people are engaged in the service.”

Marten Gregory

Marten says the move to one council, Dorset Council, following the disbanding of Dorset County and North Dorset District Councils has helped drive home a focused recycling message. “There used to be a two-tiered local government system for waste management. The county council used to deal with disposing of the waste and the district or borough council used to collect it. There were seven different types of organisation and systems. It wasn’t a straightforward as it now. We only have one organisation.” Marten said.

But he says his team won’t rest on their laurels. Recycling rates can still be improved but we’re unlikely to ever recycle 100% of our rubbish. “That’s very unlikely to ever happen. We’re looking to increase recycling but with the climate change emergency, we want to focus a lot more on waste prevention. We don’t want to chase recycling rates. We want people to think about what they buy in the first place – whether they can reuse items rather than buy single-use items before they even think about recycling.”

That’s why next week’s talk, arranged by Plastic Free Shaftesbury and Planet Shaftesbury will, in part, encourage residents to change their habits and produce less waste in the first place. It’s getting easier for shoppers since Abbott’s Greengrocers introduced loose grains and pasta, and the plastic-free shop Coconut and Cotton allowed customers to buy refills of liquid cleaning or hygiene products.

Supermarkets are often criticised and for good reason, but Marten says his organisation has played a part in getting the big players to reduce their packaging. “We work with national organisations who lobby on behalf of local authorities. Supermarkets have done a lot over the years, but more can be done. There’s been a ‘light-weighting’ of packaging. The amount of glass you get in a bottle or jar is now less than it used to be.” Marten says that reduces the carbon footprint in transportation.

The packaging of food products has changed, too. “The industry has moved away from black plastic trays, which created a problem for the technology that sorts plastics,” said Marten. Light can be used to identify different plastic polymers, but it doesn’t work well with black. “You’ll notice that the colours of that packaging have changed,” he added.

One term written on containers, which can confuse consumers when they check to see whether packaging can be recycled, is ‘check locally’. “Not every local authority recycles pots, tubs and trays at the curbside,” said Marten. “Orange juice cartons are made of a composite of cardboard, film and foil. That can’t be put in the recycling bin, but we have alternatives – carton banks in several locations including Shaftesbury. When it says, ‘check locally’ it’s a case of checking whether it is recyclable and where it can be taken apart for processing.”

If you’re still confused, Marten will be handing out leaflets that explain what goes in which bin. “We focus on our ‘right stuff’ campaign. It’s a simple list of what can go in. People have got used to it and it seems to have worked well in Dorset over the last four years,” he said. If you can’t go to the talk, those information sheets will be available at the TIC afterwards.

When people put unsuitable items in the recycling bin, sometimes with good intention, it can cause problems. “There’s an over-enthusiasm with people putting too many plastic items in the recycling bin now, because it’s been in the national psyche,” said Marten. “We’ve had things like Wellington boots. Donate them to a charity or take them to our household recycling centre.”

When inappropriate items are added to the recycling bin, the processing costs rise. “It’s important that we have ‘clean’ material in our recycling bin because whatever we receive has a cost to us as a council. Types of plastic, like toys, cause problems because we get a worse deal when we pass on our recycling mixture to the processor. That will cost us money. That is why the curbside recycling bin is just one facility for dealing with your household waste,” he said.

Marten says textiles, foil and other materials can be taken to the household recycling centre at Wincombe. Food containers, which can be recycled, should be cleaned before they are put in the bin, but Marten says you don’t have to ‘make a meal of it’. “It doesn’t have to be squeaky clean. A rinse is fine. Use the washing-up water to rinse them out and let them dry a bit,” he said, adding, “Pizza boxes are a good example. You can find that the base is covered in grease. We don’t want cardboard covered in that. That would go in the rubbish and the lid, which probably doesn’t have grease on it, can be torn off and put in the recycling.”

Marten says the phrase, ‘if in doubt, chuck it out’ is a good adage. “We don’t send rubbish from the curbside to landfill any more. It does get treated, which adds a cost to the recycling, but it gets put to good use as well.”

Dorset Council staff don’t act as ‘recycling police’ but they will offer advice. “We do focus very much on education in Dorset. There are places where there are shared bins, such as at a block of flats where they are sharing a large bin. When you look, there is too much contamination in it and we don’t want that contaminating the whole load. We’d knock on doors and provide information and leaflets,” he said.

Next Thursday, Marten will take the people attending the Planet Shaftesbury talk on the journey that their waste and recycling follow. “I’ve been asked to come along and talk predominantly about plastics but what people generally want to know is what happens to everything that leaves the curbside,” he said.

Shaftesbury residents have four bins – a black bin for general waste, green bins for recycling and glass and a small brown food waste bin. I asked Marten what happens when the smaller food container is picked up. “It gets collected and taken to a bulking location, or directly to the anaerobic digestion site near Dorchester. It goes into a large vat and generates a methane gas used for heat and electricity. Through that process, you get a digestate – that’s the food waste that is left after the process. It goes to a very high temperature and can be put on farmland,” he said.

The talk will take place at Shaftesbury Town Hall

Marten intends to encourage people to evaluate how much food they actually need to buy. “One of the things that we’re still finding in the rubbish bin is food waste. A lot of it is stuff that people could have eaten. One of our focuses is trying to encourage people to buy only what they need, home compost or put it in your recycling food waste container, rather than the rubbish bin.”

Marten explained that material from the green recycling bin travels further. “It gets taken to North Wales, where there is a state-of-the-art facility that separates everything. There’s a ballistic separator, which separates the 2D and 3D paper and cards. Magnets are used to separate cans. Aluminium cans are not magnetic so there’s a special system to temporary magnetise them to get them out. There’s a laser light that identifies the different polymers of the plastics as they go down the conveyor belt and they are filed off to different places for collection. A lot of the materials that come out travel very few miles to be reprocessed into new products,” Marten said.

There is a paper mill next door to the plant. In December, Alfred interviewed Ian Manley from the household waste site at Wincombe. He explained that Dorset’s recycling is sent to the Welsh facility because of a nearby newsprint’s recycling centre. Dorset residents throw out more newspapers than any other county. “I think it’s fair to say that Dorset residents, compared to a lot of other locations, still read newspapers and there is a high percentage of newsprint in our recycling,” said Marten.

I had imagined people would be physically separating the recycling loads from a passing conveyor belt. Marten confirmed that’s how it used to happen but it’s now mainly automated. “A lot of those multi-million-pound facilities are further up north, rather than in the southwest,” he said. This process keeps our waste out of the landfill and most of the recycled material doesn’t leave our shore. “A very high majority is dealt with in the UK, although there are certain colours of glass that go to Europe where it gets recycled,” Marten said.

At the end of his forthcoming talk, you’ll be encouraged to quiz Marten. He says he enjoys that. “The range of questions is amazing. That’s why I like doing these talks, because you get to understand what people are thinking about. Plastics is the most topical one,” he said.

Marten Gregory’s talk is at Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7pm on Thursday, 12th March. It’s free but there is the option to reserve your space on the Eventbrite website.