During just one year between April 2007 and March 2008, Somerset householders produced 269,271 tonnes of household waste. Multiply that by the number of counties in England and you get some idea of just how big a landfill hole we would need. There are around 4,000 landfill sites in the UK. Into those goes approximately 111 million tonnes of controlled (household, commercial and industrial) waste per year. And whilst this accounts for around 85% of the UK’s waste, it also adds a big percentage to the methane and carbon dioxide pollutants that are creating the greenhouse effect. One of the ways forward is recycling.
During 2007/08, according to Somerset Waste Partnership, Somerset recycled 50.9% which is way above the national average of 27%.
The Somerset Waste Partnership is made up of Somerset County Council, Sedgemoor, South Somerset, Mendip and West Somerset District Councils and Taunton Deane Borough Council.
They have been working together since 1992 and they manage the waste collection, recycling and disposal services for over 228,000 homes.
There are 18 Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC’s) throughout Somerset and Somerset Waste Partnership is in regular contact with these recycling centres to ensure continuous improvement in performance and standards.
I went along to the Crewkerne HWRC to find out what goes on in the world of recycling.
The Crewkerne site is managed by Viridor Waste. But it is not all that long ago that the ordered and tidy system they have there now, consisted of just one large skip into which virtually everything was shovelled and subsequently carted off to the nearest landfill.
The processing of the waste is surprisingly simple although it also has its fair share of high-tech assistance. Each morning, the first job is to judge how much capacity is left in each skip, then the full skips are removed and taken to the MRF (materials recycling facility) in Taunton, and empty ones put in their place. There are also CCTV cameras in place, the images from which can be seen by the Taunton site and they can be used as backup to warn Taunton that a collection is required.
The CCTV cameras have lead to a significant reduction in break-ins. But many people feared big brother tactics were being used when your car registration was shown as you entered. The ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) system is used to stop commercial waste being deposited at the site. Unfair on the small builder you may think, but it is you the tax payer who ultimately pay for the final disposal of the rubble that the builder has also charged his customer to remove, but that same builder pays nothing to the recycling centre. Still think it’s unfair?
I wondered if the recent news reports of growing cardboard mountains and excess bales of shredded plastic as an indirect result of the recession were having an impact on the recycling centres. A Viridor manager explained that whilst the price of recycled cardboard for instance, may well fluctuate, Viridor has long term contracts with recycling processors and a minimum price was agreed from the offset. He also assured me there was no problem with stockpiling and that the materials for reprocessing continue to be shipped out every week to mostly UK recycling plants.
But now we are extending the shelf life of what we have at home, have they noticed a drop in the amount of items people discard? They have seen a drop in the amount of white goods, such as fridges and TV’s and also less hardcore and soil is coming in. The latter could be related to the downturn but it is also weather related.
So having decided our belongings can last a little bit longer and in an effort to economise, what happens to those of us who inadvertently throw our once prized possession into a skip or perhaps mistakenly heave something of value in with the garden rubbish?
Three years ago, the Health & Safety Executive put a stop to the men climbing in the skips to sort out the recycled from the non, but that didn’t stop the team’s heroics when a lady recently lost her mobile phone, so whilst she rang the number, the men at the site managed to find it buried amongst the rubbish.
But surely the ultimate form of recycling is to actually reuse an item. Perhaps someone else could benefit from your son’s bike that he has outgrown, or a kitchen chair that doesn’t match your new colour scheme.
In some counties, recycling facilities have “selling areas” where members of the public can buy an item. But this inevitably causes extra traffic and on site congestion and Somerset decided against the idea. So three years ago the Bric a Brac system was set up.
The bric a brac contractor, who holds a permit and waste carrier’s licence, takes these items and sells them to the public, thus avoiding these still useful items from being destroyed.
So there really is a great deal to be said for the Crewkerne Recycling Centre, it supports the community as well as the environment.
Keep Crewkerne Recycling Facility open.