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Rubbish Clearance Questions: Do Street Sweepings Get Recycled?

It’s early morning and you’re awoken from your sweet dreams by the grating roar of monster. Groan… what the heck? Your sleep deprived brain finally resolves the source o the terrible sound… it’s the street sweeper again, slowly scraping the rubbish clearance, grime, oil, and whatever else happens to be on the streets into a hopper.

You roll over, still annoyed, but slowly drift back into dreamland. That’s when you realize that the waste removal reality show is crashing your otherwise pleasant dreams. What’s happening to all that rubbish clearance as it is scraped off the roads? Your brain has no answer for this important question.

Well, in most areas of the world, unfortunately, all those street sweepings end up at the same place as most people’s household waste removal: the dreaded landfill! Even in dreamland, you realize there must be a better way so you tell yourself you’re going to do an internet search over your morning coffee to find out a better solution.

It turns out that in most of the UK, these street sweeps are conducted by SUEZ Recycling and Recovery. A search of their website, and other sites that talk about their street sweeping process, indicate some good news. Their street sweepings do get recycled in a very interesting but complicated way.

Basically, in a nut shell, after the big stones are removed, the sweepings are first separated into organic matter and non organic matter. These two components are then separated by size of particle. Then, depending on the size of the particle, the resulting rubbish clearance is recycled in various ways.

Most of the organic matter (soil, twigs, leaves, etc) are composted. The bigger inorganic particles, which are larger than six millimeters in size, are used to build new roads, repair roads, or ground up and mixed with a salt to provide grit on icy roads. This will be swept up again of course and the whole recycling process will start anew.

The smaller inorganic matter, less than six millimeters in size, are mostly used to make concrete but can also be used for bedding material when utility companies and others lay pipe. The remaining silt, smaller than seventy-five microns, is used to make a sludge and then dried into a clay material to use in soil remediation projects.

Now, let’s look at how this rubbish clearance from the street sweepings is used in other places.

Unfortunately, many cities use their street sweepings as “cover” for their landfills. Supposedly, they do this only if they have groundwater protections in place. However, the leachate from landfills is notoriously good at finding a way into the groundwater regardless of these protections. Lining a landfill with non-porous material, for example, usually just pushes it over to the side.

So, this means that the toxins, such as oil residues and anti-freeze leakages, have a good chance of ending up in the ground water if street sweepings are used to cover landfills. This is actually something to think about when deciding how to filter your water for drinking or whether or not to buy water from another source.

Several cities in the United States, especially cities on the West Coast, or near the West Coast, seem to compost the organic matter found in street sweepings. However, most do not do much with the inorganic materials so this is an area for which much improvement could be seen in the next decade. The biggest hurdle to doing this seems to be the revenue needed to get such a programme started. Some cities are actually ready to recycle all of their street sweepings but they just don’t have the funding in the budget to make that happen.

The largest western state, California, has set strict requirements on cities to reduce the amount of rubbish clearance going into land fills. Because there are penalties if a California city does not meet the requirements, there is a powerful financial incentive for California cities to prioritize funding for recycling sweepings in their budgets. This has activated cities like Long Beach, with more than 170,000 miles of streets to sweep and 13,000 tonnes of street sweepings to deal with, to start a very active recycling programme. Approximately ninety-six percent of Long Beach’s street sweepings are now recycled.

Another major motivator is the simple fact that landfills are filling up and new landfills are not being built at the same rate as they are filling up. This means that cities around the world will simply HAVE to find an alternate solution to the rubbish clearance from their street sweeping activities. Otherwise, their roads will end up like the ancient world’s roads that were never swept. There were so many layers deep, they became an archaeological goldmine thousands of centuries later! We shudder to think about what archaeologists might find if a place like New York City never swept their streets!

If you need to clear your curb on street sweep day, why not take the opportunity to declutter your garden and home too. Call Clearabee for a booking once you do so that your rubbish clearance can go for a better purpose than rotting away in a landfill. Clearabee is well known for their ability to reuse or recycle more than ninety percent of all the rubbish they clear! In fact, diverting rubbish from landfills is one of their founding principles as a company.

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