Sunday, January 27, 2008

Where Does Our Rubbish Go?

I spent Friday learning all about what happens to our household waste. We started the day with a morning at the Marchwood Incinerator (or Energy Recovery Facility), then visited the Recycling processing centre in Alton (or Materials Recovery Facility), and finally the Little Bushywarren composting site near Basingstoke.

This was a tour organised by the city council and by Veolia who have a long term waste disposal contract (called Project Integra) with all the local authorities in Hampshire. I had been looking forward to it for some time and it was extremely educational.

The first thing I wanted to know was why does the Marchwood incinerator look like the lair of a James Bond villain and what does it look like inside. Here are pictures showing both.

I was told that essentially it looks like it does because the site available was quite large leaving the architect the luxury of building something unique and interesting. Inside it is essentially what you would imagine such a facility to look like.

Marchwood incinerator is one of the sites where our non recyclable waste goes to be burnt. It is then converted into energy and supplied into the national grid, powering about 20,000 homes locally. At the end of the incineration process what's left over (called bottom ash) is separated out into metal, aluminium and glass. Most of the bottom ash is then used as aggregate in road building.

We were shown a huge pit where the dustbin lorries dump all the waste. A giant crane then lifts heaps of the material and drops it into a chute for incineration. What amazed me was the amount of recyclable materials like cardboard that I could see. Clearly we have a lot further to go in sorting our rubbish. I was told that we could probably double the amount we recycle as a city if we all did it properly.

However we are making great strides. In 2002 local councils in Hampshire were sending 700,000 tonnes of waste to landfill. This was down to 123,000 in 2006 and I am sure we can reduce this much more in years to come.

The Integra project in Hampshire is leading the way and other counties are looking at similar models. What I find worrying however is how far the commercial sector is lagging behind. Business in Hampshire is land filling perhaps 5 times more than is coming from households. Changing that has to be the next big challenge. I see no reason why local authorities can't enter into agreements with the commercial sector to recycle and incinerate their waste and avoid it going to landfill.

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