What Happens to Your Recycling

recycling collection


Blue lidded recycling bins are emptied into a collection truck

The bins are emptied into the back of our recycling collection trucks. It is then compacted by the truck - everything is squashed very tightly. This means we get the best capacity out of the truck; it has to make fewer journeys. 


Mid Sussex recycling is delivered to the transfer station at Burgess Hill

Mid Sussex trucks then empty their load at one of West Sussex County Council's Transfer Stations, either at Burgess Hill or East Grinstead or Crawley.  

The recycling is weighed on the freighter and the vehicle delivering it is recorded. At the transfer station the recycling is loaded into larger trucks which transport it to the high-tech sorting plant at Ford.

Your recycling material goes straight from the trucks into a large reception area at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF – pronounced “murf”) at Ford. An operator drives a loading shovel and loads the mixed material onto a conveyor belt for a pre-sort.

 MRF loading bay


At this point, large cardboard is removed and baled for recycling and any visible rubbish (such as bags of waste, teddy bears and quilts are removed for disposal).
baled cardboard


The mixed recyclables then move along a conveyor belt into a trommel screen. This is a huge drum with holes in it, like a giant washing machine drum.

The trommel screen turns 12 times a minute, and separates paper from containers and cardboard. The trommel (drum) has holes of two sizes, which allow different materials to fall through.

As the trommel turns, glass bottles and jars smash and the pieces fall through the first 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. Remaining items flow through the smaller holes into the ballistic separator.

seperated glass


The ballistic separator removes small pieces of paper from the containers. The ballistic separator shuffles and shakes the recycling. As the ballistic separator is on an angle, anything heavy and round rolls to the bottom (plastic bottles and cans), and anything flat and light bounces its way to the top (paper and card). A magnetic belt attracts steel and other metals containing iron (known as ferrous metals) which are then baled up.


A magnetic belt attracts steel cans, aerosols and jam jar lids.


The rest of the recyclables then pass through an eddy current separator. This contains spinning magnets which repels the aluminium and makes it jump onto a different conveyor belt to be collected and baled up.

baled cans


Plastic containers then pass through an optical sorter A sensor detects the wavelengths in the reflected light, identifying the type of plastic bottle. The sensor triggers a jet of air to hit the plastic bottle and remove it from the conveyor. It separates out two different types of plastic bottle and splits them by colour. Once separated clear (HDPE) and coloured (PET) plastics are then baled up.

plastic conveyor belt
baled plastic


With the glass, plastic containers, steel and aluminium removed, the mixed paper and card, and newspapers and magazines go through a final quality control check to ensure high quality standards are always delivered to the manufactures. The remaining paper is then sorted into paper baled up for sale.

Paper conveyor belt
baling machine


Viridor then looks for the best market to sell the materials onto, wherever possible materials for manufacture are kept within the UK, but sometimes the best market for a material will be abroad. Currently all the plastic bottles are sent for reprocessing within England.

To help the sorting plant perform to its full potential it needs the right materials passing through it. District and Borough Council’s agreed to a set standard for the quality and type of recyclable material collected that can then be sorted and graded at the plant.

To enable them to be sorted and then recycled, all materials must be:

  • Clean; free from food contamination
  • Dry and placed loose in the recycling bin (no plastic bags)

Quality control team

A team of people also work on quality control during the sorting process. They analyse both loads of materials coming into the plant and loads of material leaving the plant. This ensures that quality is maintained. If loads from particular councils are consistently found to be contaminated or of poor quality, the supplier will be informed of the problem. This process also ensures that the quality of separated materials to be sold on is high. This ensures that the highest prices are reached.

MRF Quality control

Manufacture of material after sorting

All the materials that are sorted at the plant are baled and sold to manufacturers who recycle them into new goods. As the materials are sorted into high quality products a number of secure markets exist.

The re-processors can only recycle materials that are clean and dry.

Wherever possible materials for manufacture are kept within the UK, but sometimes the best market for a material will be abroad.

The market for materials varies between materials and at different times. In 2010 – 11 almost all plastic, metal and glass from the plant was reprocessed in the UK. Keeping the materials local within the UK helps to reduce the carbon footprint of recycling them into new goods.

Exports are highly regulated and monitored and controlled by the Environment Agency in cooperation with the competent environment authorities of destination countries. The West Sussex County Council's contractor Viridor Waste Management is accredited by the Environment Agency as an approved exporter, a status that is subject to rigorous auditing, annual review and accreditation of our operations, documentation audit trail records and all end market re-processors.

All about the recycling sorting plant at Ford