There is no such things as “away”, when we throw something away it must go somewhere. I recently came across this quote from Annie Leonard – the American woman behind the amazing animated film The Story of Stuff, which describes the life cycle of material goods. You can watch the video here – The Story of Stuff – I really recommend it!
It made me think a little bit more about our stuff, here in Jersey, and what ‘away’ actually means for us. Something which was answered when I recently accepted an invite to visit the Energy from Waste plant at La Colette – and what an eye opener that was!
Sitting high and proud on reclaimed land, the Energy from Waste (“EfW”) plant was built between 2008 and 2010, a much-need replacement for the old incinerator at Bellozane. The plant is just one part of a whole infrastructure of waste management that sits on the reclamation site. From dry recycling – paper, card, plastics etc, to metals, glass, green waste and rubble – it is all managed in this one area.
Each parish has it’s own separate, individual way of dealing (or not really dealing!) with recyclable waste. But for household waste there is no difference. Every time your bins are emptied from home they are brought to the EfW plant for incineration. With metal, glass, card, paper and plastic bottles all possible to be recycled, the bins should really only hold non-recyclable waste. Sadly that’s not the case, but hopefully it’s something that will change over time. Recycling rates for the island are at nearly 32% – which is a good starting point, but there’s lots of room for improvement.
In a separate bay at the EfW plant is the collection point for commercial bulky waste. There is no cost for dumping commercial waste, and no commercial waste management systems in place, so there is absolutely no motivation for them to be sorted and recycled. Time is money after all – don’t they say? But what if commercial businesses were charged for what they dumped, but not for what they sorted for recycling – I’m sure there would be a vast uptake in recycling. I can see this happening on the horizon – and possible not just for commercial users.
Take for example this holding pen for household bulky waste. The EfW plant was recently on a one-month shut down for routine maintenance. The household bulky waste from the La Collette recycling centre is broken down and brought to this nearby holding pen. Can you see all that waste – the size of a football pitch and about 15 foot high – that is the household bulky waste collection for TWO WEEKS ONLY! In only two weeks our population of only 104,000 souls has created nearly a football pitch worth of waste. I was literally speechless, gob-smacked, gutted. Who knew what wasteful scoundrels we really are.
There is no doubt that so much of this stuff hadn’t reached the end of its useful life. That something new was bought to replace it, just because we ‘wanted’ to rather than ‘needed’ to – and it was just too much effort to see if anyone else could make use of it. Much simpler to dump it – it doesn’t cost anything after all. Perhaps if there was a cost to it, a cost that would pay someone else to recycle what is possible, then perhaps there wouldn’t be so much waste? In reality, I fear there would just be more fly tipping. The Department of Infrasture and Department of Environement are already working together to ensure any fly tipping is reported and necessary measures taken.
After two weeks the vast holding pen inside the EfW plant is looking pretty full. In the bottom left-hand corner we can see the openings where the bin lorries deliver their loads of household waste – and already two of the unloading bays have been closed so that the waste can be piled up.
The huge crane is operated from inside the control room at the top of the plant, reminding me of the fairground games where you can win a cuddly toy as a prize. There’s nothing cuddly and fluffy going on down there!
Did you know that the EfW plant actually contains two separate incinerators? It was news to me! I was also surprised at how small and efficient they actually are. I’m not sure about you but if I’d stopped to think about it I would probably have thought of raging fires and lots of smoke – but it’s just not that way at all.
This photograph is the inside of one of the incinerators – only possible to view because the plant is on shut-down for maintenance. Normally these metal plates are loaded with waste from the holding pen below, and the temperatures can reach over 1000 degrees centigrade in here! The plates move up the slope, constantly moving and turning the waste as it completely drys out and desiccates into dust. The time it takes to incinerate is dependent on things such as weight, what the load is made up of and how wet it is.
Ultimately though, as well as getting rid of our rubbish, the EfW plant uses the heat from the incinerator to generate steam. This steam is then used to drive a turbine which generates electricity which is sold to the Jersey Electricity Company (“JEC”). At the moment the plant is producing approximately 7% of the islands needs
As the waste incinerates it releases steam, acid gases, heavy metals and combusted gas. These are captured and treated to clean the gas up. Materials such as lime, activated carbon and pelleted urea are added to the reaction duct to mix them all together. The lime absorbs acids and neutralizes acidity and the activated carbon captures the heavy metals and altogether they create a fine talc-like dust. The resulting material is then filtered through a hoover bag type of contraption, but one with 560 separate socks.
Once cleaned, the resulting gases are then piped across to the nearby JEC chimney, utilising an existing resource rather than building anew. There are 8 separate chimneys within the one chimney stack, and the EfW plant utilizes two of them. The chimney is used by JEC when they have to fire up the diesel generators to create electricity, if and when there is a power supply issue with the French connection.
Fly Ash is collected as part of the incineration cycle, a natural part of the combustion process. This is currently shipped to the UK for disposal, but there are ongoing investigations of how this can be recycled further. The bottom ash is collected and shipped to the UK where it undergoes a further process to extract and recycle the metals from within. The metals can consist of iron, steel, aluminimum, copper and zinc, and with the growing need for these raw materials it looks likely to continue to be worth the cost and effort of extraction. The material left over, once the metals have been extracted, is graded and mixed into secondary aggregate meaning that it is all effectively recycled.
More than anything I really hadn’t understood what a complex operation the plant was, at every single stage in the process. Hats off to all those members of the Department of Infrasttucture involved in its day to day management. There are 3 shifts a day running the plant, which is operated 24 hours a day, along additional maintenance operatives.
At the end of the month-long shut down I was invited back, literally an hour before the incinerator was fired up again. I was keen to see how much waste we really do generate in a month, and it’s not a pretty sight! The bulky waste holding pen was meters higher, despite heavy machinery squashing it down. It’s important to stress that this is bulky waste only, the non-putrecible waste, that contains such things as furniture, chairs, tables, kiddies car seats, mattresses, old toys etc. The putrecible waste such as food, nappies, or other household wastes etc is kept secure in the household waste holding pen inside the EfW plant.
There was even a large extension on the amount of area used for the household bulky waste.
At the EfW plant all of the delivery bays, except one, were closed to deliveries and overflowing with rubbish.
This is the household waste holding pen from the outside, with its one last delivery bay open.
And the view from the inside, showing the waste stacked up.
To just a few meters from the top.
Full of household waste – 67% of which is fully recyclable and shouldn’t be there.
One thing I learned last year, when working towards a zero waste lifestyle, is that it’s not necessarily quick or easy but there are definitely many, many ways that we can look at our everyday life and reduce our waste. During the next few weeks I’ll try and share lots of ideas on the blog, just in case you feel like joining me on this quest to reduce waste where possible, increase the amount of recycling of glass, metals, paper and cardboard – and to reduce our reliance on single use plastics. Let’s look at ways together where we can reduce our carbon footprint, our environmental impact, both within our beautiful island and our special place on the pale blue dot.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Department of Infrastructure for the invite, and especially to Richard Fauvel for his time, enthusiasm and patience, and for sharing his knowledge so freely.