‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is an incredibly easy mentality to embrace when it comes to rubbish removal, especially when living in one of the biggest, busiest cities in the country. “Where does all of our garbage go?” and “how much of it is actually recycled?” are likely not questions that spring to mind every day, but it’s important to keep these questions close; especially granted how polluted the world is becoming.
Various studies have shown that London is, as a whole, generally getting better at recycling, though sadly at too small and slow a rate. Some have stated that although the number of plastic bottles being recycled has more than doubled in the last 15 years, predictions suggest that less than 10% of overall bottles brought into a household are recycled (29 out of the average 373 per household, to be exact).
Luckily London appears to be developing more eco-conscious mindsets for recyclable materials, with estimates placing around 50.8% of all glass used and 57% of paper, in all of Britain, being recycled. Other materials are catching up, albeit slowly, but the question of where garbage in general goes is still in the air. As it turns out, the journey from the bin and beyond has become much more important, and interesting, over the last decade or so; ending in results that are infinitely more productive than simply rotting in a landfill.
Where Do Recyclables Go?
Recycled materials go to various facilities around the country and the London area itself. Cans (mostly aluminium) go to a dedicated can recycling plant called Novelis Recycling in Warrington which, actually, serves as Europe’s one and only dedicated can recycling plant. Thankfully, a large portion of waste is supposedly organised in order to recycle as much as possible. Clearing junk is generally viewed in the same manner throughout all of London’s boroughs, with local councils adhering to established systems for processing trash in its various forms.
One particularly apt example of this is how organic kitchen waste is collected and utilised, used for a process called anaerobic digestion, the likes of which produce energy and fertiliser. All the organic matter is gathered and mixed until it becomes a gruel like material, which is then heated and stirred into a sealed container. This, in turn, causes the mass of mixed organic matter to start producing methane and carbon dioxide, which are used to generate heat and power, and the remains are then used as a fertiliser for farms.
In terms of general rubbish removal, there is a Bristol-based facility that takes care of a lot of London’s trash; especially West London’s trash. The Severnside Energy Recovery Centre is located just north of Bristol and is able to treat up to 400,000 tonnes of rubbish, including disposing of it via incinerator. This process is paired with an ash treatment plant that is able to repurpose the destroyed garbage into an aggregate that can be transformed into a material that are invaluable in construction projects, ranging from turning into bricks or even being used to pave roads.
Another facility utilised in a similar manner, albeit for straight-up energy generation, is the Waste facility (that’s ‘Waste’ as in part of the ‘Lakeside Energy from Waste Ltd’ company) situated close to Heathrow Airport. Serving as an alternative to oil, coal and gas power, this Energy Recovery Facility is able to dispose of garbage in a manner that generates heat and power. These facilities are so effective that they’ve been estimated to deal with approximately 96% of West London’s rubbish alone.
The Processing Facilities
Other than these sites there are two main waste processing facilities that deal with London’s garbage. Both of these waste processing facilities are based in London, Bexley; the Veolia Waste Site and the Cory Riverside Energy facilities, formerly known as the Belvedere Riverside Resource Recovery Facility. The latter series of facilities is based along the River Thames and processes rubbish into all manners of useful materials; including energy.
Collection points along the Thames, located at Smugglers Way, Cringle Dock, Walbrook Wharf and Northumberland Wharf, carry grey bin waste to a ‘resource recovery’ centre and then an incinerator. The Riverside Resource Recovery centre has been designed to innovatively separate recyclable materials, such as metals, from trash to be incinerated; all of which is done in a manner that minimises noise and odour releases.
The consideration for the local environment isn’t strictly limited to the people living within it either, as the incineration process lowers the level of toxicity within the gases emitted from incineration via adding ammonia to the flue gas. This flue gas passes through a reactor where hydrated lime neutralises the acids within it, as well as capturing heavy metal particles, and boils water in boiling tubes to create steam. In turn, this steam drives a turbine that generates energy; truly extracting everything possible from the garbage.
There’s even more to it than that and how the Riverside Resource Recovery centre deals with rubbish, but even with this impressive facility working in full force the role of Cory Riverside Energy isn’t over as, a little more down the Thames, there’s the Tilbury Incinerator. The bottom ash, as well as the heavier objects like metal, stone and brick, is sent here and transformed into a material that serves as the secondary aggregate for road construction, much like the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre.
The overall stats of this process is staggering, showcasing that London’s rubbish situation is already improving. A mere handful of these stats reveal that the processes are able to create power 160,000 homes (with up to c.525,000 MWh of generated energy), 200,000 tonnes of ash for road construction and almost 10,000 tonnes of bricks made from the residue collected by the air pollution control.
As well as creating plenty of practical benefits, the Cory Riverside Energy facilities have granted benefits via omission, which is to say they’ve prevented plenty of obsolete practices. For example, by utilising the route of the Thames they’ve managed to prevent over 100,000 vehicle journeys (saving countless carbon emissions and fuel consumption), prevented over 149,000 tonnes of carbon by not sending waste to landfills and essentially been able to transform over 750,000 tonnes of waste into energy and recycled products.
Despite these incredible advancements in rubbish removal, there are still plenty of problems in London; especially the garbage in the sewers below. Infamously known by an appropriately disgusting moniker, ‘Fatbergs’ are gigantic amalgamations of refuge that’s flushed down sinks. Grease, fat & oil make up the Fatbergs, as well as the likes of wet-wipes flushed down the toilet, which are becoming more and more common and problematic.
These revolting masses of fat are incredibly difficult to get rid of and have often been compared to concrete, requiring weeks of time and exceptional man-power to even break them apart. Shovels & high-powered jets are needed to take them apart, and considering the largest on record was even longer than Tower Bridge itself (or consisting of the weight of 19 elephants) it’s not hard to imagine just how hard it would be taken apart.
The sickening existence of Fatbergs should serve as reminders that our garbage doesn’t simply disappear when thrown out of the home and that, really, any future of rubbish removal starts with us. Companies and governments being eco-conscious are, naturally, monumental steps that should be celebrated but in reality, the largest contributors to pollution and garbage are our own homes.
While you may be asking the question of “where does my rubbish go?” you should be asking how you can help to reduce the amount of rubbish being produced, as well as means of responsibly removing trash. Here at No 1 Junk Street, we believe in responsible rubbish removal, and we’re always open to discussing how to do just that. Have any thoughts on the future of garbage removal? Think there’s a better way we can clean up London? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter!