The Glasgow Times today launches a new series called Spotlight.

The investigative reports aim to shine a light on the biggest stories affecting the city.

Today we begin our series by looking at your waste and what happens to it.

With COP26 coming up and climate change top of the news agenda, we will reveal what happens in the city when it comes to recycling.

Going forward, Spotlight will become an important part of what we do at the Glasgow Times and will be part of our investigative approach to tackling the biggest stories in the city.

If you have any issue you want us to investigate, e-mail

IN the Blochairn Recycling Centre the lorries come in with tonnes of material from blue bins.

They are collected from households and from the street bins where people are told to put in paper, card, plastic bottles and aluminium cans.

The centre should be a money-spinner for the city with current market rates for recyclable aluminium at as much as £1000 a tonne.

Valuable income for a cash strapped council like Glasgow. 

But as is often the case with waste disposal and recycling in Glasgow there is a problem.

While waste is separated from recyclable materials, the wrong items contaminate the rest of the contents and it can make it not only worthless but costly.

In the overall recycling market the amount of cash the city earns from selling material on can be knocked out by the price it has to pay to get the contaminated material processed.

READ MORE: Fury as Glasgow's West End recycling bin removed

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It makes the need to put the right rubbish into the right bin all the more important.

When the blue bins are collected, they go to Blochairn and are tipped into a huge pile.

The pile is then put through a series of conveyor belts using sensors, magnets and electrical currents which separates out the different materials.

Magnets pick out steel cans, electric currents detect and “ping off” aluminium cans.

Light sensors identify plastic bottles and separate plastic milk bottles and clear plastics. They are pinged off into separate drums.

It is all about getting the right material to the right processor and minimising the cost to the council and therefore the taxpayer.

David McCulloch, Glasgow City Council group manager for waste and recycling, explains. He said: “We make money from it. But if it’s not good quality it costs us money.”

And when the sums are balanced, it can cost the council money overall.

He said: “Plastic bottles, cans and cardboard are the big-ticket items.”

But, he said, one food item can contaminate the whole bin and the contents go into the waste pile.

At the end of the sensor process a team or around a dozen staff are working the conveyor belts picking out any cardboard, plastics and paper that was missed.

It moves pretty fast so the staff have to be nimble and eagle eyed.

Ian Mulgrew, supervisor, said: “It’s a hard job.”

He isn’t kidding.

I stood at the belt and watched it move past for around a minute then stepped back. It is a strange disorienting sensation and that’s only after a minute. The lighting is not good either and it’s a difficult environment to work in.

As the belt goes by, we can see some of the materials put in the blue bin that obviously shouldn’t be.

There are nappies, face masks, wet wipes and paper soaked with wet food or drink.

This causes a problem. It contaminates the potentially valuable recyclable material and increases the waste pile for incineration or landfill.

When the blue bin material has been sorted at Blochairn it is split into waste, cardboard, mixed plastics, newspapers, mixed paper aluminium and tin. Then the paper, plastics and cans are baled for sending to processors.

READ MORE: Glasgow binmen pen letter to Nicola Surgeon over 'cleansing crisis'

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The processors turn it into new material and sell it back to the market.

For aluminium cans the bales are transported to a processing plant where they are melted and formed into blocks which are then rolled out into aluminium sheets.

This is then able to be turned into products like drink cans or foil trays for ready meals and put back on the shop shelves and the journey begins again.

The paper and card are sold and sent to Smurfit Kappa in the Southside where it is treated and broken down into raw materials to be used in the firm’s paper mills to produce card and paper, which is then sold back on to the market as recycled paper and card.

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Glasgow’s recycling rate has been historically the worst in mainland Scotland.

In the last year it has managed to increase the recycling rate and reduce the amount going to landfill but also increase the amount of waste generated in the city.

For 2020 Glasgow generated 265,632 tonnes of waste and it recycled 78,538 a recycling rate of 29.6%

It diverted another 110,228 tonnes from landfill leaving 7,826 to go to landfill a rate of 28.9%

The figures, for 2019, show the city generated 252,148 tonnes of waste. Around 10% of the Scottish total.

It only manages to recycle 62,201 tonnes or 24.7% of the waste generated.

The performance is well below the Scottish average of 44.9%.

Glasgow manages to divert another 62.5 tonnes from landfill which is another 26.4% leaving almost half of the waste generated in Glasgow, (49%) going to landfill.

The problem is not that Glasgow is generating proportionately more waste than other parts of the country, it’s not.

On average the city generated 0.4 tonnes per person, slightly lower than the Scottish figure of 0.44 tonnes and lower than some areas with a far better recycling rate.

Tomorrow: Bulk uplifts