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What happens to my recycling?

It gets used to make lots of new products

However, once the material has been sorted here in London at the materials recycling facilities, some of the recyclable material is sold and sent to other countries where it is used to make new products.

We contract with two companies to sort the mixed dry recycling (cans, paper, plastic, glass etc.) collected by six of the north London borough councils and then send that sorted material to reprocessors who will recycle it into something new.

NLWA monitors the materials recycling facility contractors by undertaking spot checks on the contractors' recyclate sales data to check that the recyclable material is being sold. These checks also enable the Authority to verify that the material is actually being recycled.

See what happens to the things you recycle with our handy map:



Asbestos is disposed of in landfill in Cambridgeshire

Due to the hazardous nature of asbestos, this material has to be disposed of via a specialist landfill site licensed to take hazardous waste.

Cans and Tins

Cans and tins are processed in the UK

Metal tins and cans are separated from the other recycling in Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and sorted into steel and aluminium. This is then sent onto UK markets (Derby, South Yorkshire, Swansea and Essex) for onward recycling. The metal can be converted back into new metal products.

Car Batteries

Car batteries are processed in Essex

Car batteries are sent to be reprocessed, which involved the lead being extracted and reused, and the other components recycled. Old car batteries can also be recycled into new ones.

Cooking Oil

Cooking oil is processed in Norfolk

Used cooking oil is cleaned and reprocessed for reuse as biofuel.

Engine Oil

Engine oil is processed in Brentford and Worcestershire

The oil is recovered, cleaned and returned to its original use, or recycled as a fuel oil for industrial use.

Food Waste

Food waste is processed in south east England.

Separately collected food waste goes to anaerobic digestion facilities in Hertfordshire. Mixed food and garden waste is processed in in-vessel composting facilities in Cambridgeshire and Uxbridge. The proportions of material being sent to the different locations may change over time.


Furniture is reused in London

Furniture items suitable for reuse are inspected and tested before being resold through the King Road RRC shop 'Second Time' in Waltham Forest. Furniture suitable for reuse is also sold by reuse organisations such as Bright Sparks in Islington. Furniture unsuitable for reuse is recycled where possible. 

Gas Cylinders

Gas cylinders are processed in London and Surrey

Gas cylinders are returned to the companies they belong to for reuse. Those cylinders which can no longer be returned to the companies they belong to are recycled.

Glass bottles and jars

Glass is processed in the UK and abroad

All of your recyclable material that is collected at your kerbside is sorted in Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) in London. Glass is separated from other recyclable materials and sent to facilities in the UK and Europe (West Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Buckinghamshire, South Yorkshire and abroad in the Netherlands) where the glass is processed into glass cullet, or pellets. The final product is either used for bottle manufacturing or for aggregate in road construction.

Green waste

Green waste is processed in the home counties

From the end of last month separately collected food waste has gone to open air windrows in Essex, Kent, Suffolk, East Sussex and the Cambridgeshire. Mixed food and garden waste has gone to the in-vessel composting facility in the Cambridgeshire. The proportions of material being sent to the different locations may change over time.

Household Batteries

Household batteries are processed in London

Batteries are reprocessed in London into their metallic compounds, which can be recycled into new products.


Hardcore is processed in London

The material is ground down and used for aggregates, for example in road building and maintenance.

Large Electrical Appliances

Large electrical appliances are processed in London

The plastic and metal components are separated and sent for recycling, and made into new products.


Light bulbs are processed in Norfolk

Energy saving light bulbs and fluorescent tubes are processed to extract the glass and metal elements for recycling. The glass element can then be reused to make new light bulbs.


Metal is processed in Essex 

The metal is sorted into different types and reprocessed. The reprocessed metal is then used in the UK to make a wide range of metal objects.


Paint is reused in London

Paint left for recycling is used by Forest Recycling Group, a local community group based in Waltham Forest.

Paper and Card - RRCs

Paper and card from RRCs is processed in Hertfordshire

Paper and card from RRCs is sent for further reprocessing in Hertfordshire to make recycled paper and card.


Plasterboard is processed in Bedfordshire

The material is recycled back into gypsum based products, which can be used in the plasterboard and cement industry.

Plastics Bottles Pots Tubs and Trays

Plastics are processed in the UK and abroad

Plastics are separated from your other recyclables at a facility in London and sorted into the different plastic types, including plastic bottles and mixed plastics, such as pots and trays. 

Plastic bottles are predominantly sent to facilities in the UK for remanufacturing - they are washed and chipped to create plastic pellets which can be remade into plastic bottles. 

The other mixed plastics are sent to outlets in the UK and overseas for manufacturing into new products.

Small Electrical Appliances

Small electrical appliances are processed in Kent

All electrical appliances are processed in the UK. The electrical appliances are dismantled and separated into component parts such as metal and plastic for recycling.

TVs and Monitors

TVs are processed in Kent

All TVs are processed in the UK. The TVs are dismantled and separated into their component parts, extracting the various materials such as lead, plastic and glass, for recycling.


Textiles are processed in London and sent abroad

Textiles are separated and sorted in to those suitable for reuse in London before exporting. Those unsuitable for reuse are sent for recycling in Dubai and the Ukraine. Reuse items mostly go to Africa and Eastern Europe. Recycled items can be made into industrial wiping rags, felt or other materials.


Wood is processed in Essex

Wood is processed in Essex where the majority is recycled to make new products such as chipboard, animal bedding or garden mulches. Any wood not suitable for recycling is sent to biomass for energy recovery.

Paper and Card

Paper and card collected at the kerbside is processed in Kent and abroad

The material is sorted at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) in London and sent to mills for reprocessing both in Kent and abroad (Indonesia, India, Germany, Vietnam, Netherlands, Turkey, Taiwan and Switzerland). It is recycled into new paper and card.

Dry recyclables such as paper glass and plastic:

Dry recyclables are either sorted at the kerbside by putting the different materials into different compartments on a truck, or where people have a mixed recycling bin, collected mixed together and taken to one of the Materials Recycling Facilities (MRF) in London where they are sorted into the various materials such as paper, glass, plastic and metal. After sorting by either method the materials are then taken to reprocessors – places like paper mills or plastics recycling plants where they are recycled and made into new products.

What happens at a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF)?

Kitchen and Garden waste:

Food and garden waste in north London goes to a number of locations in the home counties or Northamptonshire. Food waste on its own gets turned into energy at an anaerobic digestion facility. Garden waste on its own is turned into compost, and mixed food and garden waste is also turned into compost but at a In-Vessel Compost (IVC) plant. The proportions of material being sent to the different locations may change over time.

If the recycling we collect is too contaminated to be processed it has to be disposed of as residual waste at our energy from waste facility in Edmonton, or sent to landfill.

That’s why it’s important that residents do not put the wrong things in the bins for recycling or composting.
NLWA and north London's seven borough councils plan ahead to make sure that there is enough composting capacity, and enough capacity at our contractors’ materials recovery facilities (MRFs) where collected recycling is processed.

Why do some recycled materials eventually go overseas?

Once the material is sorted, it is sent to reprocessing companies to be turned into new materials and products. Some of these recycling markets are in the UK while others are based outside of the UK. The recycling gets sent to where there is a reliable and financially sound market for the materials.

At present, much of the manufacturing industry that the UK relies on is in the Far East and therefore, some of the material has to be sent there. The material gets turned into a vast range of products, from kitchen appliances, to toys, clothes and packaging.