We began our journey at Rotherwas where all Herefordshire rubbish is taken once it has been collected from the wheelie bin or black bag you put out for the dustbin men. Not though in the huge Wye Valley Reclamation site we thought it was, but at a much smaller affair tucked behind the Household Rubbish site. Once that misunderstanding was overcome and resisting the bacon sandwich smell from the breakfast van at the Reclamation site we were on our way, by 9 a.m.As a recyclable bit of rubbish, be it in a wheelie bin or clear bin bag, we would get dumped on the floor of a big shed, the one that used to be the ‘MURF’ (materials recovery facility) conveyor belt system until two years ago but is now just used for onward packing. A front loader scoops up everything in a great big mix, glass, tin, paper, plastic whatever, it is all plonked into a container on the side of the shed. When that is full it is loaded onto a flatbed lorry and driven to the recently opened (2008) Norton Recycling Centre just to the south east of Worcester. Chasing our rubbish this is where we went next.
We arrived thirty minutes later at a large closed shed surrounded by clean tarmac and a tree planting scheme still enclosed in plastic tubes, just off the Pershore road. The recyclable rubbish in its large container gets driven into this shed and the door is closed firmly behind. Once inside it becomes part of a huge hall of moving conveyor belts connected by grey sheds in which people work, sifting and sorting. Fork lift trucks zip between them and the stacks of one metre cubes of garish rubbish tied up with wire. Some are crushed tin, others paper, others plastic.
Newly arrived the rubbish travels up one conveyor belt and into one of two streams. Paper and cardboard climb up flat beds, bottles and tins – round things, fall onto the other (note to self, don’t crush tins or they will go with the flat things and have to be pulled out by hand). The paper belt has a quick journey to crushed packed cube state, the tins, bottles and plastics a rather longer one. Up they go on one belt and down another, all the time being separated by magnet, laser and wind, each to its own respective pile. Clever as the machines are though they can’t distinguish black so there is only one destination for those, out onto the landfill, but more of that later.
The Norton conveyor belts can deal with 30 tonnes an hour. If you speed the belt up said Ian, the quality goes down which means markets for the end product are lost. So the belts are worked slowly and the shifts extended, till ten at night. The aim is to keep it all on the move. There are markets for all the products but the main aim is not so much to sell the stuff but to keep it all moving. No delays, no stock piles.As we watched from the gantry, the moving machinery and flying arms of people working in the sheds pulling out things that shouldn’t be there, a long lorry drove into the shed. The driver closed the door – the shed must always be closed, pulled away one side of the truck ready for a fork lift to fill it with cubes of tin. Aluminium is currently selling at £800/tonne, which is three cubes we were told.
About 40 people work in the lighted sheds on two shifts. A pall of rubbish smell lingers across the noisy machinery and the place seemed dusty or maybe it was just mist to keep the dust level down. But high on our gantry, locked out from the floor, we weren’t able to talk to anyone to ask them what it was like.
Norton has just reached a new high of 6000t a month, about 35% of our total rubbish, but it should be more. We should be achieving 60% or even 70% said Chris our It’s Our County expert, other counties do. How can we do this too? Hard, the hardest thing of all says everyone in the rubbish industry, to change people’s behaviour. We could have alternate weeks of collecting, black bin bags one week, recyclable the next, with fixed bin size with lids. That has dramatically increased recycling in neighbouring counties. We could collect food waste, once a week, in small bins with fixed lids. That reduces the methane output of landfill dramatically and is done successfully in some counties, as for example Oxon and Berks. But it would require remodelling the collection vehicles, not cheap.
Back to our waste stream and the 65% municipal solid waste MSW, the black bin bag stuff. No diversion to the smart new facilities for it. No, at Rotherwas the black bin bags go up a ramp in the collection lorry and are tipped into one of two pits. Here it is crushed and squeezed into a long 17 tonne container. Once full the container is loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven the 40 miles to the landfill site at Pershore. Probably you know it. You will have seen it when passing on the train to London or Oxford, a curious long, low mound bare of trees or shrubs, empty of life. The mound has been growing since 1960 when it was taken over by the council for ‘land fill’, though land mound is the more appropriate term, for it is not an old quarry site, but agricultural land that is growing only waste, westwards and upwards, though there are limits to both directions and those limits will be reached, apparently in a few years.
First stop on our tour was the small electric plant that makes electricity from the methane pulled from the waste heap by underground pipes. An impressive 6 MW electricity (enough for 14,000 houses if you can believe the figures) travels four miles to a substation and into the national grid.From here we went up onto the mound in a landrover following the tracks of the huge ‘caterpillar’ vehicles that pull the containers up onto it and dump the contents. About 200 vehicles a day bring rubbish to this site. Much as this is, it is reduced dramatically from just a few years ago due to the impetus of the landfill tax (now £56 a tonne) and subsequent increase in recycling. Once dumped, front loaders move it around into some sort of order for there is a method to the desolate pile. First long strips are scraped to the subsoil, the clay returned and compressed to reduce leachate, and the ‘wind rows’ filled with the MSW.
One part of the site, near to the Reception, is given over to ‘garden waste’, the stuff that goes in green bags or people bring in in special loads. This is chopped and left to rot in steaming piles, chopped some more and eventually sold as a soil improved at £2 a 90kg bag to the general public, or in larger amounts a long list of customers.
Planning permission was granted some years ago for a composting facility for garden waste at Moreton on Lugg but Severn Waste have not got round to building it yet. Apparently they will this year, plus they are pleased to be building a much wanted £1m household waste facility at Kington.
After this our tour was completed and we went to the nearest roadside pub to recover, have a late lunch and discuss waste.
Much of the day, as we walked round, had involved talking around the proposed Hartlebury Energy from Waste proposal, and whether it was a Good Thing. Well no it isn’t, there are no perfect solutions to waste, but something has to be done with it. We all agreed more should be done to reduce and recycle, much more. There was a grudging admittance that it wasn’t fair to chuck our rubbish over the border into Hartlebury where it was out of sight and out of mind. Nevertheless most people in Herefordshire would be pleased if this happened because they would never have to think about it again. Or would they? Would the Public Finance Initiative (PFI) contract that is building the incinerator, come back to bite us. What was it costing, what are the risks and the penalty clauses. We need to know for our neighbours’ sake the health risks of incineration. The industry says it is safe, the pollution no worse than motor cars, but the minute particles emitted by incineration (the PM 2.5s) aren’t really comparable to cars. Cars emit diesel and petrol particles, but no-one knows what comes from rubbish because no-one knows what goes in. It could be anything, batteries, solvents, radioactive fire alarms.
On the plus side the 200,000t p.a. facility will produce, if you can believe the figures, 15.5 MW of electricity, enough for 36,000 houses, while 60% recycling can still be achieved claim Severn Waste. Though at 0.5t a head rubbish (the current rate) and a combined H and W population of 700000, they will have to import some rubbish to the Hartlebury plant to do this.
My sums say that it will take 5.5 tonnes of rubbish to provide enough electricity for one house. That 5.5t of stuff could be more efficiently used, either not made at all as packaging or whatever it was to end up in an incinerator, or more must be extracted from the black bin bags. As this website reported last Christmas, resources are just too precious to burn. The European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik said then:
“We have simply no choice. We have to use what we have more efficiently or we will fail to compete”.
For the mid-term, for the now, we have two/three choices.
Reduce what goes in the black bin bags by reducing collection weeks, charging, making the bags smaller, -whatever and then landfill or incinerate the remainder. If you live near a landfill or incinerator you won’t want either of them. Transporting and construction costs, jobs, environment and planning will all come into the equation and help us find the best solution.
It’s Our County Waste Key Facts
• Municipal Solid Waste MSW – non recyclable
• Recycling and Composting
• Commercial and Industrial – C and I
How Much Waste in County: 96,039 tonnes (2007/8) decreased from 100,000 t in 2002.
How Much Per Person/Household; 0.5t/person; 1.2t/household
Where does it go: To recycling centre at Norton near Worcester or to Landfill at Pershore
How much goes to landfill: 65%, 35% recycled in 2011
What is in the average rubbish sack: More than 60% could be recycled or composted
Landfill Tax: £56/tonne; rising £8 each year it will be £80/tonne by 2014
What is the Cost: Gross £14.8m, Net £12.6m, 9% of the Council Net budget; £72 per head
Oxfordshire: 2010/11 £17.6m; 2009/10 £15m, for waste disposal. Population of 635,500, 264791 households; 60% recycling; one EfW planned but at appeal, £27.7/head. For collection, e.g. West Oxon Dist Co, 100,000 people, £4,500,000, is £45/head is £72/head total
How Much Commercial Waste: 167,000 tonnes; 58% industrial, 42% commercial
How Much Construction and Demolition Waste: 20,000 tonnes; the majority is re-used
The Minerals and Waste Strategy of the LDF was produced2009 by Entec UK Ltd, Shrewsbury .
Hierachy: Prevention – Re-use – Recycle/compost – Energy recovery – Disposal (PPS 10)
European Landfill Directive: To reduce the volume of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill by 35% of that produced in 1995 by 2020. Banning of hazardous waste in landfill.
European Packaging Directive: target of 65% recoverable
UK Waste Strategy: Reduce household disposal waste by 40% by 2020 from 2000 levels, 50% recycling by 2020, 75% waste recovery by 2020. Halve the amount of C and I landfilled. The landfill tax escalator, increases by £8 each year, now stands at £56/tonne plus other encouraging methods. The aim is to see MSW as a resource.
The Planning Authority is required to identify sites suitable for innovative waste hierarchy disposal.