Recycling Facility Visit

On Wednesday two groups of residents were taken on a tour of Wandsworth's new Materials Recycling Facility (MRF)

Photo of residents on a tour at the Materials Recycling FacilityIt took two years to build the new MRF at Smugglers Way in Wandsworth, the first of its kind in England. What's special about this facility is that it can sort out three types of paper, three types of plastic, cans, tins, glass and more in a space so compact that the whole operation is built over three tiers.

Before it was constructed, 15 articulated lorries passed through the site per day to remove material for recycling at a facility in Kent. The operations manager, Steve (pictured, far left), explained that in time all material from the four Western Riverside boroughs (Wandsworth, Lambeth, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea) will end up at Smugglers Way. At the moment they are still commissioning, accepting more material gradually to ensure any teething problems get ironed out before opening up its full capacity. 

Photo of the Recyling Facility tipping floor

Steve took our group to the Education Centre, which is a colourful room they use to educate classes of school children. From there we could look out over the machinery through the large glass window and hear about the facility in the relative quiet before going to see it up close.

We then donned high-vis jackets, hard hats, ear and eye protection and set off round the plant.

What happens in a recycling facility?

  1. At present 350 tonnes worth of orange bag recycling gets delivered per day into a 400 tonne pit. 
  2. A crane with a 'grabber' can lift 1.5 tonnes of material at a time and deposit it down a hopper which leads to the first of 107 conveyor belts.
    Photo of a conveyor belt

  3. The belt first passes through a picking cabin, staffed by six to eight people who remove big, obvious items of contamination such as cables or textiles by hand. 
  4. Then the materials arrive at a bag splitter. Its jaws simply open the orange sacks so they can be removed from the line later. 
  5. Another group of picking staff remove plastic sacks by pulling them out and putting them in a vacuum pipe which sucks them away to be bailed. It is best to remove the bags at this early stage because they can get caught in machinery. Textiles and other contamination is also removed by hand.

    Overall the facility's recycling is contaminated by about 6%, mostly with clothing. Steve urges people to put textiles in public textile banks or give to charity shops as material catches on the machines and crushed glass gets buried in it at an early stage, so it would be unfit for recycling even if they could separate it out.
    Photo of mixed plastic

  6. An optical sorting screen flashes light onto the material to determine its density. This is how thick 'OCC' (oversize cardboard) is separated from the mix.
  7. 'Mach screens' are escalator-like back-and-forth moving platforms which allow heavier materials to drop between their gaps to more mach screens waiting below.

    Down the layers of belts and mach screens materials get sorted out into loose mixed paper, bottles and cans (Aluminium cans fetch a good price at �900 per tonne at the moment) and finally at the very bottom crushed glass falls through. Other processes further sort items out - such as magnets which attract and repel steel and aluminium cans.

    As crushed glass comprises the smallest-size pieces in the mixture it gets collected after falling through the smallest holes. Unfortunately anything else that is also small enough to fall through will get into the glass stream. The main problems are bottle tops and shredded paper. It is recommended that if you have confidential information requiring shredding, to just tear off the section with the sensitive information on it (for shredding and throwing in the rubbish) so the rest of the document can be put in a recycling bank or orange sack.    
  8. Finally, the separated materials go into collection bays and take turns being baled. The bales are then sent to manufacturers for making into new products.  Photo of one of the 107 conveyor belts

Visit yourself

The MRF runs visits for school and other interested groups. To arrange a visit contact

To find out what the materials get turned into visit the WRWA website.

There are 4 responses to “Recycling Facility Visit”

  1. Ian Green Says:

    That's me, far right. Do take the opportunity to look around the plant if you are able to. It is interesting, enlightening, surprising, impressive, noisy, thought provoking and just a tiny bit smelly in places! Thanks to Wandsworth BC for the visit

  2. Andy Says:

    Thanks for detailing about what happens in a recycling facility. Andy from

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