Thursday, May 31, 2007

Not really a rubbish day!

The recyclables arrive at Alton
Above; Pro-Grow

The crane in the pit at Chineham


Today I went on a tour to find out just what happens to Hampshire's rubbish and recyclables after they have been picked up; not the most interesting way to spend a day you might think (actually it was fascinating!) and timely too given Miliband's new strategy paper.
By the end of the 1980s Hampshire County Council began to realise that they were facing a real waste disposal problem. Hampshire geologically isn't really suitable for landfill, the incinerators they built in the 1970's were knackered and waste levels in the county were continuing to rise.
By 1995 they adopted the Hampshire Waste Strategy document. It isn't a barrel of laughs to read but it was remarkably far sighted given the situation at the time. Out of that came Project Integra, a partnership between the County, the 2 unitary authorities of Pompey & Soton, the 11 District Councils of Hampshire and Veolia Environmental Services who run the sites.
They built three smallish new incinerators, the smallest of which is located at Chineham near Basingrad which is where I started my tour. Dustcarts deliver about 50 drops to the site per day where the waste is tipped in a bunker. A crane then grabs the waste (the crane driver looked so bored, he was positively zombie like), and places it into a hopper that drops onto a grate. This grate turns the waste to ensure the waste is all burnt effectively. From here the ash then has any metal removed for recycling as scrap while the ash itself is also sent for recycling (used in tarmac and the like). Hot gas produced by the process then heat a boiler where the steam powers a turbine. The resulting electricity is enough for circa 8,000 homes. After being cleaned up the gases are released through a chimney emissions being negligible. while the cost of this isn't cheap (the three sites weighed in at an eye-watering £130million) but given the rising costs of landfill, it could be argued that Southampton Council taxpayers got something of a bargain. Given the action that Council Officers have already set in train, cutting landfill from the city to below 2% seems to be an achievable target.
Off next to the Composting Site at the improbably named 'Little Bushywarren'. Here the county's green and garden waste arrives where it is first dumped and then shredded into long rows on a huge concrete floor outdoors. Regularly turned and watered if its dry (the water itself is reclaimed rainwater recover from run offs the concrete), this forms compost. After six months or so it then has any further impurities removed (tennis balls, golf-balls and plastic bags mainly) before it is chopped up more finely to produce a high quality, organic, peat-free soil conditioner sold under the proprietor name of 'pro-grow'.
Third on the itinerary was a visit to Alton's 'Materials Recovery Facility' as the recyclable sorting warehouse is called. Lorries tip kerbside collections of paper, card, plastic and cans onto the floor where they are fed onto conveyors by a mechanical shovel. A fairly unpleasant job, the waste is pre-sorted to take out the non-recyclable stuff people put in their recycling bin where the waste then goes into a huge colander (I think the technical name was trommel) where the rotating action separates out the waste into plastics and metals, paper and card and lighter paper made from newsprint and magazines. All this is happening very quickly- the speed of the conveyors is considerable and the process is dirty (the dust given off gets everywhere) and smelly.
The cans are pulled out by magnets, bailed separately to the plastics and then they are stored for recycling off site. Meanwhile, the newspapers and magazines go onto an optical sorting machine where the paper is sorted into low and high quality and dumped into a storage area. The same goes for the cardboard. Again all this is sent off site to a couple of paper mills for re-cycling. Apparently, although the railway is situated near by, it would be too expensive to send the waste from Alton but Fratton appears to be a more long-term prospect for movement of the recyclables by rail. Currently it is all sent by road.
So what did I think? Well the investment is huge but the end results are remarkable. This means we have one of the greenist councils in the country. the plant has probably another 30 years of life with the ability to expand capacity and upgraded so the future holds little fears from the governments new green taxes. That said, our high starting position means that further improving our performance will be difficult. There are issues over the contracts that were signed the day before Southampton became a unitary authority. Nonetheless I have been highly impressed with the Officers approach at the Council and Veolia show how a partnership with a private sector partner can deliver real results.
UPDATE: Looking for some photos as I finished this post, I came across Veolia's Hampshire site HERE. Typical!

3 Comments:

Blogger billkearnssouthampton said...

Well written and informative. Suggest you offer it to Echo for publication.

6:50 am  
Anonymous Keely Gallagher said...

Just a minor point:
The Chineham ERF produces about 8 MW of electricity, which is the equivalent of supplying roughly 8,000 homes.
I am glad you enjoyed the visits to our facilities.

9:21 am  
Blogger Matt Dean said...

Will do Bill.
Thank-you Keely for a very interesting day; I will correct my post. Must have misheard you!!!!

3:05 pm  

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