What happens to your recycling?

It's Time to Understand the Waste Journey

Your recycling, collected from smart sacks or bins, is taken to the transfer station at Smugglers Way on the banks of the Thames in Wandsworth. Run by the Western Riverside Waste Authority (WRWA), materials are sorted on site in the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Items move through a range of processes designed to separate them by properties like size, weight or shape.

Each year, Smugglers Way MRF is able to process up to 84,000 tonnes of recycling, which is collected from four London Boroughs: Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, and Wandsworth.

Once sorted, the items are baled and transferred to other facilities in the UK and across Europe to be recycled into something new. Click on the materials below to see what happens to them, or head to wrwa.gov.uk/news/where-does-my-mixed-recycling-go/ for more information.


Different types of paper/card recycling go to different recycling facilities or paper mills. At these mills, bales of paper or card are visually inspected for contaminants, or sorted further in the case of mixed paper, and then shredded, cleaned, and turned into a pulp. That pulp is flattened into sheets and dried to be used again.

Paper from newspapers and pamphlets is taken to be processed at mills in Norfolk (UK), where it is used again to make newspapers. Cardboard recycling is transferred to facilities in Hampshire and Dagenham (UK), where it is recycled into more cardboard. The longer fibre lengths that make cardboard stronger than paper, also means that it can be recycled more times.Mixed paper needs additional sorting before it can be recycled, for this to be done it is taken to facilities in the Netherlands or in Hampshire (UK). Mixed paper, once separated, can be used to make anything from tissue paper to cereal boxes.


There are many different types of plastic. Some key items are sorted at the Smugglers Way MRF, but others are baled together to be separated later.

Once they reach the recycling facilities, the plastics are shredded and any remaining contaminants are removed. The plastics are turned into small pellets which are sold in the UK and across Europe to make new packaging or items.

Whether a plastic is clear or coloured might also influence where it goes next.

Clear High Density polyethylene (HDPE), the type of plastic used to make milk bottles, is processed in either Dagenham (UK) or in Spain. Clear HDPE can be used, alongside some virgin material, to make more milk bottles. Coloured HDPE, and clear and coloured polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are all processed at a facility in Peterborough (UK). Coloured HDPE is a robust type of plastic recycled into detergent bottles, piping, or bags for life and PET is food grade plastic used again for things like drinks bottles and ready meal trays.Mixed plastics from pots, trays, or tubs are also processed in Peterborough (UK), where a sink tank is used to distinguish the types of plastics. Once they are separated, they are turned into pellets and sold across the UK and in Europe. Sink tanks use water to separate plastics by density.

Tins and cans

Steel and aluminium cans are separated at the Smugglers Way MRF. The materials are bailed and distributed to facilities in the Netherlands and Greece. Once the contaminants have been removed, the materials are melted down at very high temperatures ready to be used again.

Recycled steel can be used to make anything steel, from cans to aeroplane parts.


Glass recycling is loaded into large trucks and distributed to a facility for further sorting before it can be recycled. About 70% of glass is processed in the UK, with 30% being recycled in either Spain or Portugal. At these facilities, all the contaminating paper labels or bottle caps are removed and the glass is divided into different colours.

Glass smelting plants then use the glass again to make bottles, jars, windows, or other glass items.