Britain is running out of space to dump its waste in the ground and is heading for a major crisis in its energy generating capacity.
But a £6 million investment by Swindon Council aims to demonstrate that what we throw away can be converted into energy and reduce landfill by forty per cent.
Fifty per cent of household waste is now collected for recycling because residents separate glass, paper and plastic, and people take bulky items to the recycling centre at Waterside Park. But the other half still goes into landfill, costing the council taxpayer nearly £3 million in landfill tax each year.
James Owen, SCS Divisional Head of Energy and Sustainability, who is responsible for a new initiative to deal with the problem, said: “There is no future in landfill, the cost of dumping waste in the ground falls upon the council taxpayer, and it’s getting higher every year; the town still sends 48,000 tons of waste to landfill. Unfortunately there is still a lot of recyclable material being dumped in the bin, but we’ve come up with a viable alternative.
“The council has loaned the £6 million at commercial rates to Swindon Commercial Services to build a new processing plant at Waterside Park to treat residual municipal solid waste and commercial and industrial waste to produce refuse derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF).
“The vehicles which collect black bag waste will empty their load at one end of the building and fuel products will come out of the other.”
Canadian firm Machinex will be installing the equipment to separate cans and glass and shred the waste, breaking it down to smaller particles and segregating everything of recyclable value using different kinds of magnets and high-tech sieves. Solid recovered fuel has to be dried to a specific standard with the exhaust air treated to remove contaminants.
James emphasises that Swindon is not creating a power station. “After a rigorous procurement process SCS selected Machinex because it has the technical ability to deliver the kind of system we require and recognises the limitations of the building and our budget.
“These systems are widespread in Europe and America but the Swindon system is the first in Britain. Processes like incineration or pyrolosis require very large plant and major investment; we chose the Machinex solution because of its flexibility.
“The pattern of energy generation in Britain is changing with decentralised heat and power stations in prospect. We believe this method of turning waste into energy products gives us the ability to respond to future markets.
“It will have the capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of waste a year which, after solid recyclables and moisture have been extracted, will produce 25,000 tonnes of SRF. We are currently negotiating contracts with power stations elsewhere to buy the material produced at Waterside Park and repay the loan and return financial benefit to the council.”
The Machinex plant should start operations in November and will take about six months to reach full efficiency when all black bag waste will be processed. However James wants residents to continue separating recyclables, even after the SRF plant is in operation, because of the lower cost of collecting and processing the material for resale.
Pictured: James Owen with site manager Sean Magee, head of waste solutions at the Waterside Park recycling centre and the waste processing centre, on the right