A group tour of two very important centres was arranged for Sustainable Amersham by FCC Environment on Monday 18th October 2021. FCC Environment is one of the UK’s leading waste management companies and we have been working with Gemma Green from FCC to learn more about better recycling and how to reduce waste.
Aston Clinton Recycling Centre
The tour started at the Centre near Aylesbury and Gemma guided us round explaining what is collected and how it is managed at the site. FCC manage the site on behalf of Buckinghamshire Council and their approach is to minimise the waste that goes to landfill or incineration by transforming it into valuable resources wherever possible. This requires careful separation of waste into recyclables to reduce the impact on our environment.
It was clear as we walked round the site that successful recycling requires greater commitment from us all to separate what we can correctly and ensure we recycle as much as possible. There were clearly labelled containers for garden waste, soil, plasterboard, paper and cardboard, metals, wood, and electrical items. Other discarded items such as furniture, toys, crockery, bicycles etc. that are in a good condition are displayed for resale in the on-site shop. There were many good items for sale and worth reclaiming for further use and upcycling. We all need to understand better precisely what materials can be reused, repurposed or finally recycled instead of being discarded as waste.
It was also made clear how dangerous batteries can be if collected by kerbside handlers. When crushed these are a major fire risk and have been known to cause fires in collecting vehicles and at recycling centres. It is our responsibility to keep batteries separate, take them to any store that sells batteries, to the specific collection point at household waste centres or simply put them in a clear bag and attach to your kerbside recycling bin for collection.
The issue of contamination of recyclables always rears its head and we had many questions over materials that claim to be recyclable but are in fact not able to be separated out for this. So-called compostable packages are an example that actually create a different problem as they are not collected for commercial composting and cannot be handled in plastic or paper recycling. They even contaminate recycling collections that would otherwise have been good to reclaim. These include takeaway food trays, coffee cups and compostable bags.
Greatmoor Energy From Waste Faciity
Tucked away down a long access road sits this state-of-the-art waste facility. It became operational in 2016 and is the UK’s largest single-line energy from waste (EFW) facility. It processes 110,000 tonnes of non-recyclable household waste each year generating enough energy to power 40,000 homes. The site is managed by FCC in a 30-year partnership with Buckinghamshire Council.
Waste for incineration arrives at Greatmoor in refuse collection vehicles or articulated lorries, depending on the area, to minimise road miles and vehicle emissions. This is not a sorting site as plastics, glass, tin, foil, and paper recyclables are handled at a separate Materials Recycling Facility (MRF). Only hazardous items like gas cylinders and very large items (mattresses etc.) are manually removed using an electronic grabber.
Our tour started with a talk to outline the process of how energy is generated and the handling of gas emissions and waste by-products. Greatmoor has the capacity to handle 345,000 tonnes of waste per year from households and commercial collections. No industrial waste is used. The scale of the operation and the sheer volumes of waste we produce is quite alarming. Picture 900 tonnes of waste per day, the equivalent of 150 elephants, from Bucks alone.
The incineration grate runs 24/7 for 49 weeks per year with a constant steady feed of waste transferred into the grate from the bunker. We watched this happen from the control room with the operator using a grab crane. It was a Monday and no deliveries of waste are made over the weekend so the tipping bunker was not full. It was easy to identify many materials in the mix that should have been reclaimed and recycled – textiles, plastic bottles, cardboard and on this particular day, lots of net curtains! We as consumers must do better.
The site is managed by 25 people during the day with a reduced number of staff through the night. They monitor the grate temperature, gas emissions, ash waste etc. as well as the constant feed of waste into the system. We were able to view the inside of the grate and feel some of the intensity of the heat from a viewing window and continued the tour to the end of the process. The water used to cool the system is condensed and recirculated and the cooled ash is sorted to recover metals for recycling with the remaining ash used to produce breeze blocks and kerbstones.
The engineering of the entire site is very impressive and yet it was alarming to see just what it takes to deal with all our waste. We now produce so much waste that landfill is no longer an option and facilities like Greatmoor are needed. Using waste to generate energy for the National Grid is certainly the way forward but there is also still an urgent need to reduce consumption and the volume of non-recyclable waste.
We hope to arrange a second site visit in the spring of 2022 so please get in touch if you are interested.