What happens to our recycling in Glasgow?

Can we do it better?

The short answer is absolutely Glasgow City Council (GCC) have a lot of room for improvement in terms of what they recycle! More details below.

What can I do to help?

The not so short answer is you can save the blue bin recycling centre at Blochairn a lot of time and money by putting only the following items in the blue bin (card packaging, cardboard boxes, magazines, newspapers, comics, office paper, brochures, yellow pages, junk mail, envelopes, drinks cans, food tins, empty aerosols cans, plastic bottles including milk bottles). Nothing else should go in the blue bin, no matter if it is recyclable and should be recycled, if you put it in the blue bin they will only have to separate it which costs time and money. Things that should not go in the blue bin include Tetra Pak, Contaminated takeaway packaging, most plastic food packaging, plastic pots, yoghurt tubs and margarine tubs.

Another thing you can do is put pressure on the Scottish and UK governments to legislate to reduce food packaging in supermarkets. This could be through petitions (change.org, UK Gov, greenpeace) or written emails and letters to MSPs and MPs. You can also pressure the council to recycle more, as they are doing in our neighbouring council East Renfriewshire.

GCCs relatively poor recycling performance

Glasgow City Council had the lowest recycling rate (in tonnes/person) out of all councils in Scotland in 2019 according to SEPA household waste summary data and its recycling rate was 24.7%, compared to East Renfrewshire (East Ren) which was top of the pops with a recycling rate of 67.8%.

Why is this? I hear you ask. Well one reason for this could be that East Ren recycle collect a lot more recycling from households. For things like plastic and cardboard, Glasgow has the blue bin. But East Ren has both a blue and green bin for recycling these items.

If you compare the table below of what goes in the blue and green bins in East Ren and the GCC’s blue bin, GCC have some room for improvement in terms of what household recycling is collected in Glasgow. In Glasgow the council do not collect yoghurt pots, Tetra pak (Tetra pak can be recycled but you have to drop it off at one of the four GCC recycling centres) , food trays and margarine tubs for recycling, whereas in East Ren they do collect and recycle these items. Of course there will be budget constraints for GCC that could restrict what they can recycle, but there is clearly room for improvement.

Glasgow (Blue)East Renfrewshire (Blue and Green Bins)
Mixed papers – newspapers, magazines, journals, junk mail, brochures, catalogues, directories, yellow pages, envelopesYoghurt potsCereal boxes / ready-meal sleeves
Computer paper
Contents of junk mail
Directories / catalogues
Envelopes that aren’t padded
Christmas / greeting cards
Yoghurt pots
Card soiled with food
Paperback books
Cardboard – cardboard boxes, card packagingTetra paks
Cardboard beverage containers 
Corrugated or packing cardboard
Cardboard lined cartons (juice cartons)
including Tetrapak
Plastic bottles – milk bottles, drinks bottles, sauce bottles, shampoo bottles, cleaning product bottlesClear plastic milk bottles
Toiletry / household cleaning bottles
Plastic drink bottles
Food and drink cans – steel cans, aluminium cans and food tins.Drinks cans
Food cans and tins
Empty aerosol cansPlastic bagsEmpty aerosol cansPlastic bags, liners of cling-film
Clean aluminium foilCartonsClean aluminium foilContaminated food containers
BooksFood traysFoam and polystyrene food trays
Margarine/butter tubsMargarine tubs
Comparison of Glasgow and East Renfrewshire Household Recycling Collection Items

What happens to our bins in Glasgow?

To find out the answer to this question have a look on the recycling FAQs on the Glasgow City Council (GCC) website.

The Green Bin

The green bin goes to Polmadie GRREC, (see process diagram below) where recyclables (bottles, cans, paper) are separated and recycled. Organic waste is also separated and put in an anaerobic digester (AD). The AD produces biogas which is burned to produce heat and electricity in a combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The non-recyclable waste and dried digestate from the AD undergo ‘Gasification’ and the resulting syngas is combusted to raise steam and drive a turbine to produce electricity and heat.


The GRREC opened in August 2019 and is run by Viridor, watch this cool video to see it in operation. On their website, Viridor claim that they process 200,000 tonnes of green bin waste a year, 90% of which is being diverted from landfill and that the electricity generated from their Polmadie facility is enough to power 26,496 households and heat the equivalent of some 8,000 homes.

An email from Viridors Community Benefits Officer states the following in regards to carbon capture and the deposit return scheme:

‘Earlier this year, Viridor became the first in the UK waste sector to join Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), emphasising the company’s commitment to pursuing net zero goals. The company  is committed to introducing the infrastructure and innovation which would allow it to meet its net zero commitments and contribute to wider UK goals on climate change. We recognise that our sector has a key role to play to meet these commitments and Viridor is actively exploring technology options around carbon capture and the removal of fossil carbon through our ambitious polymers programme, to deliver further emission reductions and, potentially, negative emission operations.

In terms of new developments in Scotland, Viridor announced this week that the company will collaborate with TOMRA, a world leader in the provision of equipment for deposit return schemes, in a bid for the design, build and operation of the Scottish deposit return scheme (DRS) counting and sorting centres.’

The Blue Bin

This goes to Blochairn Materials Reclamation Facility where they process around 25,000 tons a year of recyclables. To find out about what goes on inside Blochairn read this article.
The takeaway message is: Stick to the rules with the blue bins. They are short staffed at Blochairn and putting the wrong types of waste in the blue bins increases the costs of having to separate those items.

The brown bin

The brown bin gets turned into compost! The GCC Waste FAQ says:

‘The material will be processed into compost by our recycling partners.’

The purple bin

The glass in the purple bin is recycled somewhere we can only assume as I cant find any info on that anywhere. Let us know if you have a source with info on that.

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