Dawn In The Surrey Hills

What happens when it can’t be recycled?

While it would be preferable that everything that was thrown away was recycled, technology and systems do not yet exist that would enable this to happen. Instead, the best thing for the environment is to focus on reducing the amount of rubbish produced in the first place, treating as much of it as we can in the UK and turning as much of it as possible into electricity.

What happens when residents put things into their rubbish bins?

When residents put items into rubbish bins in Surrey, they are collected by a local crew. It is then either turned into electricity or sent to landfill.

Of all the material collected from residents in 2021-22, 43% of it was put into rubbish bins with 27.9% sent to an energy from waste facility either in the UK or EU. These facilities are highly regulated and emissions from the plant are strictly controlled to ensure they do not cause harm to the environment or human health. Heat produced byburning the rubbish is used to raise steam, which in turn drives a turbine and generator to produce electricity. The electricity is fed into the local or National Grid and the resultant ash is used in construction projects.

Some rubbish is also sent to landfill. This is either because the material is unsuitable for incineration, e.g., bulky waste, or because a suitable energy from waste plant was unavailable, e.g., due to maintenance shutdown.

99.8% of rubbish was treated in the UK in 2021-22, which went up by 30.6 percentage points compared to 2020-21. As with the previous year, all of the rubbish that was sent to landfill stayed in the UK. Most rubbish was treated in the south of England with the top destinations being Kent, Essex and Surrey.

How does Surrey compare nationally?

Of all the material collected from residents in 2021-22, 43% of it was put into rubbish bins with 15.1% sent to landfill in the UK. Surrey ranks 23rd out of 29 similar waste disposal authorities in England authorities in the total amount of rubbish it sent to landfill (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: The percentage of municipal waste sent to landfill – waste disposal authorities in England compared

How are landfill rates changing?

While all efforts are made to keep the amount of rubbish sent to landfill at an absolute minimum, the rates can vary for a variety of reasons. In 2021-22, the proportion of rubbish that was sent to landfill increased because one of the main energy from waste facilities that Surrey sends its rubbish to had a long, unplanned shutdown for technical reasons. This meant there was no other option but to send it to landfill.

Figure 6: The percentage of municipal waste sent to landfill in Surrey – over the last five years

Can less rubbish be produced?

Absolutely! We know that a lot of material that goes in rubbish bins can be recycled. But even if you’re recycling as much as you can, there are still some other ways you can reduce what you throw away. Repair broken items, buy sustainable products that can be used more than once, do a waste audit, avoid single-use items, upcycle old items or use other recycling services to recycle items that your council can’t.

In June 2023, SEP will be launching a free scheme available to all Surrey residents to help them reduce waste. The scheme, Rethink Waste, will provide weekly tips and guidance on different ways to reduce waste to everyone who signs up. The more that residents engage with the scheme, the more points they can win and donate to a charity or local school, or use to win prizes. Keep an eye on SEP’s website and social media channels for more details.

You can find tips on how to reduce waste by visiting surreyep.org.uk

See also

Surrey’s target


70% of Surrey’s waste should be recycled.