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Recycling 101

What happens to your recycling?

How is your recycling collected?

What you can recycle and how it’s collected depends on a few things. Recycling is slightly different depending on where you live in London, whether you live in a house or a flat and where your council sends the recycling for processing. Generally, there are three different ways recycling is collected:

Kerbside sort

This is where you sort your recycling at home and the bin lorry has different sections for each material.


This is where you collect paper and card separately from your plastic, metal and glass, so you’ll have one bin for your paper and card recycling and one bin for the rest of your recycling.


This is where you collect all of your recycling in one bin. If you live in one of the inner London boroughs, you’ll probably collect your recycling like this.

What happens to your recycling?

We’re sure you’ve heard lots of horror stories about your recycling not really being recycled and ending up in countries on the other side of the world or dumped in the ocean. The thing is, recycling is sent to other countries for processing as it’s a commodity and traded globally. Recycling which is processed back into its component parts is sent to where it’s needed for manufacturing, which often includes places such as China. So when you see news scoops about recycling being sent abroad, this isn’t an issue. Problems arise when this recycling isn’t of good enough quality to be turned into new products and has to be incinerated or landfilled instead.

Not sure what your recycling service looks like? Check out our services-at-a-glance area.

Services at a glance

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All of the newsprint used in the UK contains around 78% of recycled paper.

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All food waste we collect is recycled in the UK and is transformed into green electricity that powers our homes or compost which farmers can use.

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What happens in a MRF (materials recovery facility)?

  1. Your recycling is loaded onto conveyor belts
  2. Things that can’t be recycled, such as crisp packets and plastics bags are removed
  3. A vibrating machine separates out the cardboard and paper – different types of paper are sorted by hand and then baled
  4. The other materials continue on another conveyor belt and steel cans are removed using magnets
  5. Optical scanners identity and separate out the different types of plastic 
  6. A special kind of magnet called an eddy current is used to sort out aluminium cans
  7. Glass is the last material, and this drops off the end of the conveyor into a large container

After it’s been sorted, your recycling is re-processed and becomes a valuable commodity in the worldwide market!

Check out this materials recovery facility (MRF) video to see how recycling is sorted. There are a few MRFs in London that your recycling could go to, such as Southwark or Greenwich.

A-Z of recycling

You can use our A-Z search to find out if something can be recycled and how to recycle it properly.