Several of our group visited the Casepak recycling plant in Charnwood to learn more about how they recycle our items. 

On a mission to understand the recycling process a little more, 13 village residents visited the Leicester-based facility this month. This is where the contents of green bins are sorted and separated ready to be shipped to processing factories.


At present Casepak, on Sunningdale Road Leicester, have won the contract from Leicestershire County Council to undertake this process. Their prime aim is to provide a clean enough product to be acceptable and usable by manufacturers as this the source of their profits. The end products that are saleable are: paper, card, ground glass, plastics, steel and aluminium.


An up-close tour

Suited and booted in safety gear, we were given a very informative guided tour by one of the managers. These tours happen approximately twice a week and will soon be available to schools, once the construction of a viewing gallery is completed. Our visit, however, was much closer to the action. Taking us in and out of areas piled high with mixed waste, along multiple conveyor belts where waste is separated based on a myriad of criteria including size, shape, transparency and material. This sorting is achieved through the use of slopes, different sized holes, air, magnets, optical screening and human intervention at several stages. 

The factory is family owned and provides employment for around 100 people working on short term contracts, depending on the amount of waste received. This can vary depending on the time of year with Christmas being a particularly busy time. I think we have all seen this in our living rooms!


The business of recycling

Let there be no misunderstanding – this is a profit led model. Casepak’s buyers want a suitable product at speed. If we choose to send dirty bottles and foil covered in food waste then they will have no compunction about sending the whole load to be burnt rather than wasting time cleaning it up.

Some areas of the country ask householders to sort materials at home, such as newspapers in one bin, bottles in another etc. The method used in Leicestershire suits the factory to which it is sent. This may not be the best method for the environment, but it is cost efficient.

There is even a postcode system to our waste. During the initial checking system of a load coming into the factory the workers can predict the content of the load according to its source. Our area produces more broadsheets and wine bottles. Student areas send more cans and pizza boxes. Humans can be so predictable…

Things not to put in your green bin and why

There are certain problems that mean your recycling may not be sent to the processers. Namely – contamination. Contamination is a major factor in determining whether waste is recycled or burnt. Here’s a check-list of items that should be excluded from the green bin.

No nappies – the whole load will be fouled and sent to be burnt.

No food – all organic waste will rot and smell. This facility is near homes. The load (potentially a whole truck full will be ruined.

No dirty yoghurt pots, bottles or containers – always wash them before recycling.

No foil – it will always be dirty.

No clingfilm – it clogs up the machines.

No textiles – they will be used better if put into a textile bin.

No needles – human sorters get injuries even through their Kevlar gloves.

No ceramics – the sorting machinery is unable to correctly identify this material and this causes problems with the system.

If you are not sure – leave it out.

Other interesting facts

Plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are never recycled.

Bottles sent in the green bins are ground up for products like sandpaper or road aggregate. Bottles sorted into individual colours at the bottle bank are used differently. Clear bottles are more valuable becaue they can be used to make more bottles.

Any plastic with the recycling symbol and a number will be recycled at Casepak, apart from number two black plastic, which will be burnt.

Of the materials sent to the facility, 95 per cent can be recycled and the other five per cent is burnt as fuel for energy

Paper and card are not recycled in the UK at present and are shipped across the world to Asia.

Shredded paper can clog the machines – leave it flat unless shredding is necessary.


Reducing waste 

The amount of waste here was overwhelming and the fact that much of this waste is shipped across the world to at great cost to be processed (or not) quite shocking. Although I found it reassuring in some ways to see the process at work, I also felt the need to generally reduce my waste, not only the plastics that can be recycled.

Hopefully over the coming months we will continue to be able to support each other to reduce, refuse, re-use and recycle, starting with no more single use plastic.

Written by

Cherrie Whatmuff