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Best practice guidelines

Every local authority has a plastic bottle recycling scheme in the UK, ranging from one or two bring sites through to comprehensive kerbside coverage. There are many options for collecting plastic bottles for recycling and these are outlined in the following sections.

Some representatives in the waste industry have convinced themselves that it is not an affordable option to recycle plastic bottles. The reality, in most cases, is very different. Although there are no prescribed answers to plastic recycling, there are a number of Best Practice guidelines that will aid the development of a plastic recycling system to achieve economic viability.

Bring Collection Systems

Many different bring systems have been tried with varying degrees of success. There are two main collection options available. The first of these is to collect "all plastic bottles" in the same container. The second is to ask the public to only collect a single polymer type or separate the bottles at the point of deposit. In theory, if the latter option is chosen, the need to sort the material at a MRF is removed. In practise, however, most recycling schemes using this system have found that a degree of sorting is still required. With material price being linked to the quality of the sorting to an increasing degree, this method is becoming less favourable than all bottle mixed collections.

The most important consideration is to match the container with the vehicle type and ensure that the vehicle capacity is maximised during servicing.

More schemes now use some form of compaction vehicle to service the units. Up to 2 tonnes of plastic bottles can be held in a standard HGV compactor vehicle, as opposed to 0.5-0.8te on a box van. Due to the need to sort the bottles by polymer type to realise the value of the material, fitting a shredder to the compaction vehicle to reduce the volume is not an advisable option.

The most popular sites include supermarkets, schools, car parks and community centres. Labelling the containers clearly or using different colours and styles of banks will make schemes easier to use.

The collection vehicle must be able to reach the site and gain access to the containers. It seems obvious, but check height restrictions and access times. The co-mingling of plastics with other materials, such as cans, may be a viable option and should be explored. Predicting volumes of collected material in a bank will enable the service frequency to be calculated. This will maximise the efficiency of the collections.

Although recycling containers will fill up at different rates, monitoring and sensible capacity provision will enable an efficient collection round, and save money. This can be done simply by using driver log sheets.

Kerbside Systems

Kerbside schemes increase the convenience and reduce the effort involved in recycling. This generates higher recovery levels than that of a bring scheme. Approximately half of UK local authorities have a multi-material kerbside scheme that includes plastic bottles.

The collection container capacity is important, with thought being given towards the weight and volume of target materials and ease of use for both collection operatives and householders. The container needs to be compatible with servicing vehicles and have sufficient capacity in relation to collection frequency.

Pre-sorting can be achieved using a compartmentalised vehicle and the provision of additional recycling containers to householders, or through manual sorting by operatives during collections. Although this does reduce the need for further comprehensive sorting at a MRF, manual separation at the kerbside does significantly slow collections and increase scheme costs.

Recyclables and refuse can also be collected at the same time using a split body vehicle, used by both rural and urban local authorities.

Plastic gains a clear benefit from using on-vehicle compaction. It can considerably increase payloads and a greater volume of material can be collected prior to vehicles reaching maximum capacity. Glass, however, cannot be collected as the compaction mechanism will cause it to break and present a safety risk. This problem can be overcome with the separate collection of glass either through kerbside or bring facilities. A standard compaction vehicle collecting multi materials excluding glass via kerbside schemes can hold approximately eight tonnes of material.

The best performing kerbside recycling schemes have integrated their waste management activities, maximised their resource use and encouraged recycling through less frequent refuse servicing. With good public education through promotion and awareness raising activities, many councils have overcome concerns raised by residents and their integrated systems have become very successful.

Recoup have growing evidence that substantiates the potential of integrated multi material collections. There is also documented independent proof that the addition of plastic bottles to a kerbside scheme can increase collection rates of other recyclables by typically 10-30%. Where the collection is rolled out using Best Practice, recycling can be achieved with comparable economics to current disposal costs

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