What happens to my recycling from Cuckfield, Mid Sussex?

By Claire Cooper

Do you get confused about what you can and can’t recycle? Do you sometimes wonder if it’s worth the effort and if the waste you put in your blue bin actually gets recycled? 

And what really happens after the recycling lorry leaves your street?

The good news is that here in Mid Sussex we are currently recycling around 40% of our waste. But there’s still a long way to go if the council is to meet the government target of 50% by 2020.

To reach this target it’s important that we all increase the amount we recycle, but at the same time make sure we’re not putting the wrong items in our blue bins.

The most common items placed in bins that can’t be recycled include:

• Plastic bags

• Plastic film such as from around magazines
and bubble wrap

• Shredded paper

• Paper towels

• Crisp packets

• Pet food pouches

• Polystyrene

• Clothes and textiles


Mixing these items can not only ruin the quality of the rest of the recycling but can also damage the sorting machinery.

It’s also important that items put out for recycling are clean, dry and placed loose in the recycling bin (the sorting machines are clever but can’t untie plastic bags!) 

When recycling is collected from our homes (1), the bins are emptied into a truck which automatically compacts the waste before taking it to the transfer station at Burgess Hill.

The recycling is then weighed (2) and loaded into larger trucks which transport it to the high-tech sorting plant, or Materials Recycling Facility, at Ford.

The mixed material is loaded on to a conveyor belt which leads to a ‘trommel screen’ (3). This is like a giant washing machine drum which separates paper from containers and cardboard. 

As the trommel turns, glass bottles and jars smash and the pieces fall through a set of holes. The smallest pieces are used for aggregate and the larger pieces are sent for re-melt into new glass bottles and jars (4). 

Remaining items flow through smaller holes into the ‘ballistic separator’ which removes small pieces of paper and separates plastic bottles, cans, paper and card. A magnetic belt attracts steel, cans, aerosols and jam jar lids.

Plastic containers then pass through an optical sorter (5), which uses sensors to identify and separate two different types of plastic bottle, splitting them by colour (6).

With the glass, plastic containers, steel and aluminium removed (7), the mixed paper and card, newspapers and magazines go through a final quality control check before being baled ready for sale (8).

 Wherever possible materials for manufacture are kept within the UK, and currently all plastic bottles are sent for reprocessing within England.

A plastic bottle sent for recycling could be made into a new product and be back on the shelves within 6 weeks! And 25 recycled bottles are enough to make one adult fleece jacket!

If you are now inspired to reduce your waste and recycle more, here’s a few ideas to steer you in the right direction:

Visit the Household Waste Recycling Site in Burgess Hill where you can recycle many more materials - including wood, textiles, garden waste and electrical equipment.

Recycle your shoes clothes and books at one of the many communal recycling banks (often found in supermarket car parks).

Donate unwanted household items, clothes and toys to your local charity shop.

A big proportion of our waste stream is food. For tips on reducing food waste, visit www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

For more information, advice and support visit
the recycling pages of the council’s website at: www.midsussex.gov.uk/recycling