Many people believe skip companies don’t recycle. In some peoples’ minds, there is a close connection between skip companies and landfill.

Landfill shouldn’t be classified as recycling, although a lot of waste has in the past, and sometimes still does, go to landfill. Most skip companies do not physically recycle. However, the materials they collect do find homes other than landfill.

Skips filled with random waste end up at a Waste Transfer Station for processing. If the waste is mixed, it gets tipped into a huge pile of waste to be sorted. The mixed pile is separated into waste types or streams with a different way of being disposed of or recycled. Large, obvious pieces are pulled out manually by pickers or plant machinery, to be taken to a separate area for those waste types. This includes: large pieces of wood, pallets, kitchen appliances or cardboard.

Once larger items have been removed, the remaining mix is placed on a conveyor belt. The processing here is designed to separate as much as possible. Some is done manually along a picking line where employees visually inspect what goes by and physically take out waste to put in separate bags. There is also mechanical sorting from a trommel (a rotating mesh type screen allowing different size debris to fall through), blowers (blowing light waste into a separate area) and magnets to pull out metal.

After your waste has been sorted, it is now ready for the next part of its journey. So what happens to the sorted waste? 

Anything made of metal may be stripped down into separate metal types to increase its value. Cardboard and certain plastics may be baled, (fed into a machine which ‘squashes’ the material before its being tied up into bales). Carpet may also be baled, with vinyl and underlays being segregated from wool and nylon. So-called ‘hard’ plastics may be separated further as some can be recycled more easily than others. The company now has its final product, and your waste is ready to go on it’s next journey, possibly across the world.

Aggregate goes off to specialist companies, often associated with quarries, who sell the material straight on for building and construction work. They may grind the material up to ensure consistency of size. Wood waste usually goes to a specialist wood recycler. Usually, the wood is shredded and sometimes re-shredded. The final product may be used for biomass fuel, composting or horse tracks and stables. 

Card and paper ends up at paper mills for recycling. This will sometimes go via a Materials Recycling Facility, who may check the quality and do some sorting or shredding in the case of paper. There are mills in the UK, and, up until recently. much went to China. 

Metal, apart from hazardous waste (such as fridges and freezers) ends up at scrap metal yards, where it is processed further. Once separated into individual metal types, it goes to different operations where it is recycled into raw product to make new items.

Colin Clarke
Author: Colin Clarke