Recycling news - a visit to the Material Recycling Facility

Published Saturday, 17th September 2016

Will, your Community Development Officer, describes a visit to the Material Recycling Facility and why you should always rinse out your recycling...

Field trip time! Our visit to the Material Recycling Facility (MRF) was organised so that council officers and Sutton residents could see what happens to our rubbish when it gets recycled. 

In my role as a Community Development Officer, I would be able to provide relevant advice to community groups and also have a better awareness of the work that goes on in my wider team.

Citizen commissioners and the Sutton Council team listen to Ian of Viridor.

Sutton Council staff and citizen recycling collaborators listen to Ian of Viridor.


The drive down to Kent took around an hour. I hadn't comprehended the smell that was going to be there as I stepped out of the car. I think in my mind I assumed recycling was all plastic, bottles, and paper, and therefore nothing odorous…so why would it smell? I soon discovered the smell was a result of people not rinsing out their waste (food cartons etc.) before disposing of it; so please do a kind deed and wash up your tins of tuna and milk cartons before recycling them tonight! I was led to believe that one became accustomed to the smell after a while, however, I wasn't fortunate enough to experience this.

We received a bit of background information about the recycling process, how it gets checked in the Beddington centre before coming to the plant in Kent. We also received a bit of background about what happens after (where batches of plastic get sent, where the paper goes etc.) I also learned how wet paper is worth significantly less than paper that is dry when it arrives at the facility – that’s why it’s important to separate paper from other waste so that it doesn’t get damaged.

Our first stop was the testing areas. How they sample checked the batches to ensure that the majority of the recycling had been correctly sorted. We then headed over to the glass breakdown area where we saw glass being broken down into sand, this was soon to become a part of the concrete slabs we walk on every day. After walking past piles and piles of recycling we headed into the main part of the factory. Seeing people filtering out parts of recycling made me really angry that some people were being lazy in their recycling methods, and recycling items that can't be recycled; leaving food in the tins, crisp packets and even carrier bags (I mean they have street value now!) Our host, Simon, who worked at the facility, did mention how they have noticed a large decline in the attempt of recycling carrier bags since the 5p charge.

We then walked around to see more staff filtering, this included removing large plastics, gas cylinders, broken down plastic chairs, there was even a child's pram! The next part of the tour included a machine that shot out different plastics which was quite fascinating, watching all of the plastic moving around did at one point feel as if I was on the set of a live action Toy Story 3 movie.

Time for a photo op! The team pose with Ian of Viridor.

Time for a photo op! The team pose with Ian of Viridor.


We ended our visit seeing the bundles of recycling stacked up in different categories from stacks of tin cans to plastic milk cartons. The tour was really interesting and made my recycling real. It's taught me to not be lazy as my indecisiveness to recycle or my laziness means someone else has to sort it out, which isn't really fair. I went home that evening and bullied my housemate into ensuring her junk mail was in fact recycled correctly the plastic wrapping went in the bin and the magazines in the recycling.
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