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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 25 June, 2019

'We’re one of the leaders in Europe': An inside look at how your plastic gets recycled

We joined Repak’s Team Green to learn how it all happens.

Source: Journal Media Studio/YouTube

EVERY TIME YOU put your recycle bin out for collection, you might wonder ‘what difference do I make?’ What you may not realise is that you’re part of the reason that Ireland has hit every EU recycling target for the last 22 years. 

According to Séamus Clancy, CEO of Repak, we’re hitting about 68% in relation to the 55% recycling target set for Ireland by the European Union: “We’re one of the leaders in Europe which is something that to be very proud of.”

Repak uses contributions from over 3,000 businesses in Ireland to subsidise the collection of every recycle bin around the country. The not-for-profit also helps fund the 1,900 bottle banks and civic amenity sites across Ireland.

Ensuring that you place the right items in the right bins is something that can make a difference, as Clancy explains:

What is close to our heart is the difference that we can and do make for  our climate and climate change. For every tonne we recycle, we’re also recovering multiple tonnes of carbon emissions. 

Clancy reminds: “It isn’t about minding the planet for future generations. It’s actually about minding the planet for today’s generation.”

So, how does it all happen?

Arriving in by the truckful, this particular plant in Dublin 12 processes 350 tonnes of recyclable waste from households each day. It’s only one of many facilities that Repak use. In order to get through all this, the plant becomes an extremely busy place. On a typical day, the machines start at 6am and run until about 2am the next day. 

In the lead up to Christmas, the plant receives an extra 100 tonnes – and plant workers say that you can see the change in colour of the aluminium bales as people’s consumption habits change during the year. The plant runs every day over the period, bar Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Unfortunately, contamination is ‘a huge problem’, according to Liam Dunne, MRF Manager at Irish Packaging Recycling, who manages the plant.

Part of this is because the first step of the recycling process involves workers having to hand-sort through the recyclable materials that come in on a conveyor belt-style system. They often have to fish out nappies and soft plastics so the rest can be recycled. Sometimes, a nappy can spoil an entire bin’s worth of perfectly recyclable materials.

How can we be better about our recycling? 

Wondering what you might be doing wrong with your recycling habits? For Dunne, it’s very simple: “We really need clean, dry, loose material. That’s what you should be putting in your green bin. Paper, plastics, aluminium and steel.”

Dunne references a study he was involved in last year whereby they found that more than 4% of the contents of the general bin was “perfectly good recyclable plastic”, so if you’ve plastic lurking in your bin, give it a wash, a dry and throw it in your recycling bin instead.

Another important way to tackle bad recycling habits like these is through high-profile public campaigns. That’s where Repak’s Team Green come in, who are in for a photoshoot on the day that we’re filming.

Repak’s Team Green is made up of Paul and Gary O’Donovan, Bobby Kerr, Paul McGrath, Roz Purcell and Anna Geary – who have banded together to raise awareness around issues such as avoiding contamination and putting the right items in your recycle bin.

This year, they’re appealing to people around the country to join Team Green by pledging to recycle at least one more piece of plastic every week. If successful, this should equate to 250 million extra pieces of plastic being recycled each year.

For Olympic medallist brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan, it was an obvious fit, and one they feel strongly about. As Gary explains:

We’re out around the lakes and the rivers in some of the most beautiful stretches of water in Ireland and we’d often see waste and plastic just floating about around the banks and it’s an awful shame. 

For Paul, it’s a point of Irish pride that we make an effort to recycle: “We’ve such a beautiful country, we want to look after the natural beauty of it.”

Think your recycling habits could do with a little work? Not sure exactly what should go into your recycle bin? Find out exactly what you can recycle hereCurrently we recycle 33% of plastics in Ireland, but we need to ensure Ireland meets its targets of 50% by 2025. See what you can do to play your part at

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