Where recycling goes

In Suffolk, mixed recycling is collected by your council and is taken to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at Great Blakenham in Suffolk, for separation and baling.

What happens at the MRF?

Your recycling bin collection from your home is only the beginning of a long recycling journey. Mixed recyclables are collected by your District or Borough council before being taken to the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) at Great Blakenham, operated by Viridor. It is weighed then it is shovelled onto a series of conveyor belts to begin the separation process.

The first stage of the process involves the material passing through a rotating drum to remove cans and plastic bottles. 

The next stage of the process is done by hand. Line pickers are responsible for removing larger unwanted items of unrecyclable waste (such as black sack rubbish, glass, food and even nappies!) by hand from the first conveyor belt. Further items of contaminating material are removed by hand from further conveyor belts by a team of line pickers.

Once unwanted items have been removed during the ‘manual’ stage the mixed materials are mechanically separated into different types.

A high-speed conveyor belt separates lighter items such as paper from plastic containers and cans. Cans are pulled out and separated from the plastic items by magnets and eddy currents.

Each of the separated material types are collected in different loading bays for compacting and baled for transportation to reprocessing companies, where they can be made into new products!

This video shows an overview of Suffolk's Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and the processes that take place here.


Kerbside Recycling Bin End Use Register

The Suffolk Waste Partnership is committed to providing residents with information on where all their materials are sent for recycling. Materials which have been sorted and baled at the MRF are sent for reprocessing into raw materials in various locations across the UK, Europe and Worldwide, ready to be made into new products. These locations are shown in the following graphs and tables.

The data has been collected from the most recent financial year (1st April 2019 - 31st March 2020). During this year, the MRF underwent major upgrades to improve the plant and the quality of the sorted recyclable materials. Whilst the upgrades were being installed, Suffolk's materials were diverted to alternative sorting facilities in Norwich, Dartford and Milton Keynes. The upgrades at Great Blakenham were completed at the beginning of this year and the facility is once again sorting Suffolk residents recycling materials. 


Metal is endlessly recyclable product. Suffolk residents put 3,605 tonnes of steel and aluminium cans into their household recycling bin last year. The graph and table below shows where.


End Destinations Tonnes sent
UK 3,470
Germany 121
Greece 14
Total 3,605


Metal end destinations bar graph



Card can be pulped and reprocessed into many new products and packaging. Last year, Suffolk residents put 6,856 tonnes of cardboard into their household recycling bin last year. Most of this material went to export as cardboard is in high demand from overseas markets.


End Destinations Tonnes Sent
UK 45
China 1,216
India 1,603
Indonesia 1,038
Pakistan 182
Taiwan 633
Thailand 235
Turkey 148
Vietnam 1,756
Total 6,856



Paper can be pulped and turned into many new products. Suffolk residents put 24,530 tonnes of paper into their household recycling bins last year. This material was sent to the following destinations for reprocessing.


End Destinations Tonnes Sent
UK 6,980
Belgium <1
Germany 1,435
Netherlands 244
China 2,139
India 6,500
Indonesia  4,270
South Korea 30
Malaysia 2
Thailand 966
Turkey 40
Vietnam 1,924
Total 24,530



Suffolk residents put 8,635 tonnes of plastic bottles, tubs and trays into their household recycling bins last year. The majority was reprocessed in the UK as shown by the graph and table below.  Click here to see what kinds of plastic you can recycle at home, at Recycling Centres and elsewhere.


End Destinations HDPE LDPE PET Other & Mixed Plastic Totals
UK 1,214 182 1,944 2,288 5,628
France     104 9 113
Germany 17   221 36 274
Greece     2   2
Italy 30   7 15 52
Netherlands 82   77 270 429
Portugal 20       20
Romania     324 185 509
Spain 33 2 100 8 143
Taiwan 12       12
Thailand       31 31
Turkey 130 69 768 340 1307
Russia     25   25
Slovakia     2   2
Slovenia     10   10
Ukraine     78   78
Totals 1,538 253 3,662 3,182 8,635


Plastic end destination bar graph


When residents place the wrong items in their household recycling bin, we call this contamination. Commonly found contaminations include black bags/ general rubbish, food, glass, cartons, textiles and even used nappies! People working at the MRF then need to remove these items by hand, which is unpleasent and potentially dangerous work. Sometimes collection vehicles can be so badly contaminated the whole load has to be rejected.

In 2019/20, 8,921 tonnes of wrong material were put in Suffolk's household recycling bins, resulting in a contamination rate of 17%. This is bad for the environment and costs the Suffolk taxpayer more money.

You can help tackle this problem by getting your recycling right! For more information see our "What can I put in my recycling bin" page. Thank you. 


Recycling collected through Suffolk’s kerbside recycling bins is taken to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) to be sorted. Items are currently sorted at the MRF in Great Blakenham, which is owned and operated by Viridor Waste Management Ltd and contracted to Suffolk County Council. Some of Suffolks recycling materials also went to other Viridor MRFs during 2019 while the Great Blakenham MRF underwent major ungrades to improve the plant and the quality of the end sorted recyclable materials. 
At the MRF, Suffolk’s recycling is separated into individual material streams before being sent for further processing. After this initial sort, baled materials are sent to reprocessors to enable them to be made into new products, or further sorting facilities such as Viridor’s plastic recycling facility in Rochester. 48% of Suffolk’s recycling (by weight) is recycled in the UK and 52% is exported to other European and worldwide destinations for recycling. The majority of exported material is paper and card. See 'Why is much of our recycling exported?' FAQ for an explanation on why it is necessary to recycle some materials outside the UK. Exported materials will go to Environment Agency accredited and licensed processing facilities where they are transformed into ready to use materials e.g. plastic pellets/flakes and are therefore no longer a waste product. This webpage shows the End Destination Register for Suffolk’s home recycling bin waste.

About 83% of material from our recycling bins was recycled last year. The remaining 17% is rejected for a number of reasons; it is the wrong material, it is dirty or contaminated or it is too small to be recycled (items under 4cm). To see what should go in your recycling bin click here. The most common contaminants are food waste, nappies, plastic film, textiles and glass. Plastic film can be recycled at supermarkets (check in store) and textiles and glass can be recycled at bring banks and Recycling Centres. Nappies are not recyclable and need to be placed in your rubbish bin. For food waste reduction tips and ideas for meals made from leftovers which will save you money, see the Food Savvy website. We also recommend home composting food waste which can’t be reduced. Nearly 9,000 tonnes of materials were rejected from the MRF due to contamination last year, equivalent to 1000 full loads of recycling (or one in every eight collections) costing Suffolk taxpayers over £750,000 every year. Rejected material is sent to the Energy From Waste facility in Great Blakenham.

As with many other modern indutries, the recycling industry is global. Many of the manufactured products we use come from overseas, in particular Asia, therefore there is a higher demand for certain types of materials in these countries and they often have a far larger capacity for recycling certain materials than in the UK. Paper and card make up the majority of exported materials, whereas 96% of metal and 65% of plastic collected from Suffolk was recycled in the UK last year. Exporting materials for recycling is still a far better environmental option than not recycling. One of the reasons is because exports are often taken in shipping containers which would otherwise travel back empty on their return journeys.

(Adapted from Recycle Now, 2018)
Recycling conserves resources

When we recycle, used materials are converted back into new products, reducing the need to consume more virgin natural resources. If used materials are not recycled, new products are made by extracting raw material from the Earth, through mining, crude oil extraction and forestry, therefore recycling helps conserve important raw materials, reduces stored carbon release and protects natural habitats for the future.

Recycling saves energy.

Using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses considerably less energy, water and time than that required for producing new products from raw materials – even when comparing all associated energy needs, like transport. A lot more energy is required to extract, refine, transport and process raw materials ready for industry compared with providing industry-ready recycled materials, e.g. reprocessing of aluminium cans in Wales uses 90% less energy than the mining of bauxite in Australia and extrusion of new aluminium.

Recycling helps protect the environment.

It reduces the need for extracting, refining and processing raw materials, all of which create substantial air and water pollution. As recycling saves energy, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which helps to tackle climate change. UK recycling is estimated to save more than 18 million tonnes of CO2 a year (2018) – the equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.


As well as being harder to recycle plastic with less value than other plastics, it is also difficult to separate plastic bags and film from other materials. It is also easily contaminated with food waste and other material, making it unsuitable for recycling. Most large supermarkets have a dedicated collection point where you can take plastic bags and clean plastic film (check in store). It is easier for supermarkets to recycle this material as they can collect a dedicated single stream product and recycle it with large amounts of plastic used in store during the transport and food industry process, making it financially viable. You can find your nearest recycling point here and you can reduce the amount of plastic you use by following the tips on our plastic reduction pages.

Search our A-Z for advice on what to do with most things or explore our website for more waste information and advice.

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