What happens to my recycling and residual waste once collected from the kerbside?
Recycling and residual waste material collected in Powys is delivered to the nearest regional transfer station to be bulked prior to onward haulage to reprocessors (with a few exceptions of material being directly delivered from the collection vehicles to the reprocessor).
How is it processed?
Where possible, all of Powys' kerbside materials are sent for processing within Wales, but some material is processed in England. No material travels further than this to be completely recycled or disposed of.
Our County's food waste is currently taken to an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Bridgend.
Here, bacteria breakdown the solid food waste in the absence of oxygen. This is a highly efficient process allowing for upwards of 98% of inputted food waste to be directly recycled.
The end product is fertiliser feedstock for direct reuse in the agricultural sector. Due to the AD process, a considerable quantity of methane is also produced, which is harvested and used as biogas to generate electricity for the National Grid.
All of the recycling processes, as well as the use of the resulting gases, is conducted at the same site. The remaining material (<2%, typically made up of large bones, plastic and other contaminants that did not break down during the slurry process) is sent for incineration, also to produce electricity for the National Grid, but at various facilities in Wales and England.
There is a further recycled component from the bottom ashes produced post-incineration, which is used as a component in cement manufacture.
Collected mixed, our kerbside paper/cardboard is currently sent for sorting at a facility in Deeside, Flintshire. From here, the paper and low grade cardboard is sent to a paper mill in Norfolk.
The better grade cardboard is sent to a different mill near Manchester. It is then further sorted at these sites into more specific grades. Each grade is then turned back into pulp to be fed back into the manufacture of new paper or cardboard. This is also a very efficient process with upwards of 99% of this material being recycled.
The remaining material consists of adhesive tape and staples etc., separated from the paper and cardboard. Any metal material is recovered and recycled, while the plastics and adhesives etc. are incinerated on site to provide power for the plant's operations.
Our glass is currently sent to a reprocessor with facilities in Cwmbran, Torfaen and Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. The majority of our material ends up in Cwmbran, with Ellesmere primarily used when the former is at capacity.
At these sites, the material is crushed and undergoes magnetic and 'eddy current' sorting to separate any metal components from the glass. Further mechanical sorting removes plastic or paper (from bottle lids, caps and labels etc.).
The crushed glass, known as 'cullet', is then either sorted by colour, then made into new glass bottles or containers, or more commonly is sent mixed to fibre glass insulation manufacturers as feedstock for their production process.
For poorer quality material, the glass can be graded by grain size and used as a component in construction aggregates. Given the very small size, poor quality and mixed composition of the paper/plastic fraction, this is usually incinerated for electricity production but can sometimes be landfilled. As with other incinerated reject material, the bottom ashes are recovered and used as raw material in cement manufacture.
The metals are bulked up and sent on to reprocessors to be shredded and smelted back into metal feedstock. The amount of incinerated/landfilled material rarely exceeds 5% resulting in an average recycling rate for our glass material collected of upwards of 95%.
Cans and Plastics
Our co-mingled cans and plastics are delivered to our transfer station in Llanwern, Brecon, where magnetic and 'eddy current' separation is used to isolate the steel and aluminium cans, respectively, from the plastics.
These three substreams are then baled and sent for further processing. The aluminium cans are shredded and smelted back into new aluminium feedstock, currently at a facility in Cheshire. They are most commonly turned back into aluminium cans, but can also become car parts and other aluminium items.
The steel cans are currently processed by a steelworks in Port Talbot, and are similarly shredded and smelted into new cans or other steel products.
The plastics are currently taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Derbyshire, which optically separates them into the individual polymer types, where possible. The same company is also able to directly recycle the recovered PET , HDPE  and PP  into new products at their sister sites in the East Midlands.
These polymers typically make up anywhere between 70 - 85% of the plastics stream and are shredded into pellets which are melted and extruded into new products.
Despite Powys sorting the cans from the plastics at our MRF, some metals do make it through to the plastics stream, and so there is also a minor output of metal material from this company's MRF, which is also sent for recycling.
Any remaining material, such as PVC , PS , non-recyclable coloured plastics, fines (sub-50mm material) and other reject (paper labels, film bottle wraps etc.) are sent to a UK based facility where it is turned into Solid Recovered Fuel.
This is then used by a major cement manufacturer to power their on-site kilns. Any ashes produced from incineration are used as raw material replacement within the cement manufacture itself, adding an additional layer of material recovery.
Because the proportions of the different plastic polymers in the mixed plastics stream varies month by month, so too does the recovery rate of this material stream. Typically, it will vary between 75 - 90% and is the most variable kerbside material stream in terms of quality and recyclability.
Our garden waste is currently taken to the Bryn Posteg composting facility near Llanidloes.
Here it is shredded prior to undergoing 'open windrow' composting. This process involves mixing the shredded material and storing it in large openair bays.
The material is turned periodically to aerate it and allow full breakdown throughout the load, and the process can take several months (typically around 16 weeks) to produce the final compost output.
Once complete, the compost material is used as a soil conditioner when covering closed cells of the adjacent landfill site to return it to good quality pasture land.
Starting in November 2019, we began to send a significant portion of the County's residual waste to an Energy from Waste (EfW) facility in Gloucester.
Here, rather than being landfilled, the residual waste is incinerated to produce heat. The heat is used to boil water, and the resulting steam is used to drive a turbine which generates electricity for the National Grid.
This is a very traditional process for electricity generation, the same as is utilised by natural gas, coal, biomass and nuclear power plants, but here uses household and business residual waste as the fuel.
Incinerating any material is not a clean process, and so the plant utilises 'scrubbers' to clean the exhaust gases as much as possible prior to being expelled.
This involves the gases being passed through a mix of ammonia, lime and activated carbon that captures some of the harmful gas compounds, reduces the acidity of the remaining gases, and adsorbs the heavy metals and dioxins present in the exhaust gases. This drastically reduces the levels of pollutants expelled to the atmosphere, though it does not eliminate them entirely.
The leftovers from this process are called Air Pollution Control Residues (APCR), and these are sent to a specialist hazardous waste landfill site in Northamptonshire for secure disposal. There are pioneering methods able to render this material safe for recycling, but the availability of capacity at these processing sites is currently very limited and not yet available to us.
Naturally, not everything contained within residual waste is combustible, or at least not entirely, and so there is an output from the incinerator of ashes known as 'Incinerator Bottom Ashes (IBA)', as well as concentrated metals.
Having had most of the harmful heavy metals and other compounds vapourised and expelled from the residual waste during incineration, the IBA is not considered hazardous. As such, this is sent on an aggregates processor to be graded by size, and variously sent on to be used as road construction base fill material, raw material in cement manufacture, as well as raw material for the manufacture of bricks among other things.
The metals undergo magnetic and 'eddy current' separation to isolate the ferrous and non-ferrous grades, which are sent on to smelting facilities to be turned back into new metal feedstock and products.
The proportion of residual waste that remains as APCR, IBA and metals after incineration varies over time, depending on the composition of the input material.
Typically, however, the APCR constitutes between 2 and 3%, the IBA between 15 and 20%, and the metals between 2 and 4%. As such, the recovery rate of the incineration process from the recycled IBA and metals typically falls between 20 and 25%. This means that as well as providing an energy source, some of the residual waste is also recycled.
Unfortunately, capacity for EfW is lacking in the UK at present, creating a deficit of capacity compared with the supply of residual waste derived from households and businesses.
This problem affects Powys' residual waste, and as a result while much of our material is sent to the Gloucester facility, the remainder still requires landfilling. Material from South Powys that is not able to be taken to Gloucester is currently landfilled in Pembrokeshire, and the material from North Powys is landfilled in Shropshire.