In November we arranged for a few of our Facebook followers to go on a tour of the HW Martin facility - the place in Leeds where the green recyclable waste is taken to be sorted and processed. For me the experience was really fascinating, but also overwhelming to be faced with the sheer volume of stuff our city throws away every day, even just in the green bins!

Our hosts showed us around the site, talking us through each stage of the process. Materials wind their way around the site on a series of conveyor belts and are separated by both mechanical and manual methods. The Trommel – an enormous drum with holes of assorted sizes - is able to automatically sort different materials. Materials also pass over a magnet – pulling out the ferrous metals. The waste is then sorted by hand. We entered into a room of around a dozen people stood at two conveyor belts – hand-sorting materials passing by at speed. And, eventually, the sorted materials are baled – ready for sale to a range of different processors. Many recyclable materials can be processed in the UK, but many are also shipped across Europe, the Far East and India.

As we walked around the facility, it was surprising to see some of the waste they process that should never have gone in the green bins. Around 20% of the waste they receive from Leeds is non-recyclable. They said they have seen everything from mattresses, cellphones, batteries, nappies, dead animals and hypodermic needles. This can be especially dangerous and disturbing when part of the process is done by hand!

Hopefully the more people that understand the process, the more people will take care in separating and washing their recyclables. Reducing packaging further upstream and buying less in general will also be crucial in tackling our waste issues!