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UK Waste Expo & Study Tour

In September 2012, the VWMA and WCRA NSW and Qld organised  a trip to Britain to visit a range of recycling plants, waste to energy facilities, meet with UK companies at a gala function organised by the UK Trade bureau and then travel to Birmingham to visit one of the largest trade shows in waste and recycling in the UK.

Regular updates of the tour are posted below.

UK Waste Expo & Study Tour

In September 2012, the VWMA and WCRA NSW and Qld organised  a trip to Britain to visit a range of recycling plants, waste to energy facilities, meet with UK companies at a gala function organised by the UK Trade bureau and then travel to Birmingham to visit one of the largest trade shows in waste and recycling in the UK.

Regular updates of the tour are posted below.

Click on the map for a larger image.

2012 VWMA Waste Tour Site Visits Map


Site Visit

SWEEEP electronics recycling facility, Sittingbourne, Kent

Met with Justin Greenaway and Sean Hodges (VP-DHL) at the E-waste recycling facility which has been operating since 2010, the key driver being the EU directive to recycle/recover electronic waste (the term E-waste is used here to cover household electrical appliances in addition to computer waste).

Justin used to be an electrical equipment repairman but was retrenched due to a drop off in the repair industry so he established the recovery business with investor support (an ex racing car driver). DHL have come on board as a partner, to satisfy their own internal requirements for end of life products but also in response to their customer requirements to meet resource recovery.

Each country implements the WEEE directive. The UK interprets it a bit differently. The legislation is due to be reviewed in2014. Jason estimates that about 30-35% of the total amount of material sold in Britain is currently being recovered. They are not sure currently where the other 70% is going, possibly waste to energy.

They are recycling approximately 100,000 tonnes of material per annum, about 15-20% is computer equipment. The material is competitively sourced and they operate a drop off facility as well having a mobile skip that they used in conjunction with school visits.

The material is loaded onto a conveyor where a primary sort is undertaken, before the material is loaded into a centrifuge type machine that separates the items into their component parts without shattering such as computer boards. This material is then conveyered where it is manually separated into components such as aforementioned boards, batteries, motors, stainless steel, copper wire etc. A lot of the material is then exported to third countries under strict EU guidelines. Justin, in response to a question, indicated that they are required to vet the end customers of the material to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation. DHL also has a keen interest in the end of life markets of the materials.

TVs are stripped on another assembly line from their cabinets before being crushed. The glass is sorted by X-rays to separate leaded from unleaded glass. The unleaded glass is given away to the aggregate industry, whilst the leaded glass is treated on site in a new hi temperature electric furnace to recover the lead. One CRT tube yields about 1 kg of glass and 2 tonnes of lead are obtained from 10 tonnes of crushed glass. The resultant deleaded glass is currently allowed to cool and has found a ready market as a decorative pebble in the gardening industry.

The furnace has a short payback period which has justified its construction for a material whose recovery is peaking as the changeover from analogue TV is currently occurring as well as a ban of the export of the material. A gate fee is charged on CRTs. The plastic monitor cases are baled and exported to China. The working environment is monitored and employees are tested regularly for lead levels as part of the company's OHS obligations. Nevertheless it is a extremely dirty job and is a challenging work environment.

Waste Conference & Exhibition Report

The Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) in conjunction with the Environmental Services Association (equivalent to the VWMA) holds an annual conference and exhibition to showcase current trends in waste and recycling policy and equipment. The show this year was held at the vast exhibition centre in Birmingham in the English midlands, some 2 hours north of London. There is a free conference within the exhibition so all show visitors are able to hear any one of over 100 speakers spread over the three days when they need a break from viewing the 700 or so exhibitors. It's a big show!

And if that is not enough, two other exhibitions, the renewables and energy events are run simultaneously in adjacent halls. In previous years, these events were held with the waste and recycling event, but show organizers split them to avoid the event from becoming too big.

There's lots of familiar stuff, new rear lift trucks, new sweepers, new grabs and tractors and plenty of bins and containers and there is plenty of MRF equipment (metal separators, crushers and compactors, balers, wire strippers, optical sorters etc). There’s lots of software for running materials handling and fleets and there are also plenty of consultancy firms to assist all types of waste and recycling business from technical issues to planning and policy issues. It's certainly worth attending for the exhibition alone, but the free conference makes it a definite to attend if you are going to the UK.

What is different to Australian waste and recycling exhibitions, apart from the many European companies exhibiting, is the Waste to Energy sector which is a big market segment in this show.

Waste to Energy, from combined heat and power and anaerobic digestion to pyrolysis and high temperature incineration make up a significant segment of the market in the UK and the rest of Europe and the technology to treat and burn and then capture the heat and power is big and expensive. Companies in this sector had the biggest stands at the show.

Feedstock materials are primarily waste timber, biomass or MSW which is shredded into a fluffy floc as the trip site visits have shown. Organic streams including food, animal and human wastes are put through the anaerobic pathway and the collected gas used for transport or energy production.

Many of the speakers at the conference whose talks we attended were discussing the relative merits of the Waste to Energy technologies and the contribution that they make to carbon reduction and the credits that they generate. There is a great deal of analysis in this ever changing space.

The Landfill Directive of 1999 appears to have been the key driver to reduce emissions from landfill through the diversion of organic materials. In doing so, the new pathways to treat this material have focused on capturing the energy from the materials and, because it is cold in Europe, burning to produce heat combined with power systems have been the most successful. As was put to me, producing heat, either for process systems or hospitals or community heating is the most efficient, though electricity generation is preferred but is more expensive and as one speaker declared, these systems are expensive and need assistance. And in a familiar argument, planning issues and community opposition are front and centre in the development of new facilities.

In listening to the speakers and observing the range of exhibitors, it appears that it is either between W2E or recycling and reprocessing. Waste to Energy from residual MSW has a large catchment of materials and it doesn't matter if the plastics (apart from PVC) or the paper that could be pulled from the stream stays in as it adds calorific value and this appears to be borne out by low recycling figures, particularly in MSW. Another comment by one of the speakers suggests that recyclables are increasingly being shipped offshore for reprocessing, rather than being treated 'at home', a point referred to by the Shadow Minister of Waste (what a title) who in his speech indicated that a future Labor Government would review the export of commodity recyclates, an implied that some action would be taken to restrict them.

The visit to the show has been very informative. It has highlighted the differences between Europe and Australia in waste management and the different approaches adopted between a large number of people living closely together in a cold climate versus a much smaller population spread out over a wide area in a hot climate. From this observer's point of view, the common thread is carbon reduction an issue that is not going to go backwards, nor should it. How we achieve reducing our carbon footprint however should be very much around lowest cost whilst still providing investment and profit opportunities for business. There seems to be a tendency in Europe for the 'big fix'.

The tour has been lucky to have visited several entrepreneurs with a plenty of skin in the game taking a punt whilst working with relatively difficult regulatory and planning schemes to capture the opportunities presented by having a mountain of waste. That has been the most interesting lesson from this trip.

Site Visit

Arrow Gypsum Plasterboard Recovery Facility

We met with Jason the proprietor at his facility some 2.5 hours outside of London. The site consists of a weigh bridge a large shed split between a dump off and storage of raw material area, and the processing area that includes the crusher/granulator, sieve and a final grinder that leads to a dispatch area.

While there was some dust extraction and misting, this product produces a very fine white dust that fills the shed. Working conditions for the half a dozen plant operators are not pleasant. While most wear paper face masks, they do not like to wear the fully ventilated masks that Jason provides them with as it is a hot humid working environment. Jason commented that the machinery also requires regular maintenance. Our group commented that such an operation would have great difficulty convincing our Worksafe authorities that this was a safe working environment.

The UK's Environment Agency partially banned plasterboard from landfill in 2006 and completely in 2009. During the three year transition, the Government's environment agency WRAP worked on developing end markets for the material for which there are essentially 2 uses, the fines can be re-used in the manufacture of plasterboard while the larger granules 2-4mm are used as a soil conditioner by farmers at the rate of 2 tonnes per acre.

The economics of the business work like this. A gate fee of £40 per tonne of material is charged and Arrow can process about 25 tonnes per hour. The material comes from a variety of sources but predominantly either from builders or the manufacturers when it is below spec or damaged. The material must meet pre-acceptance criteria otherwise contamination issues arise which jeopardise the operation. This has occurred but loads are inspected and the full disposal fee plus a handling and removal fee plus VAT discourages builders from doing it again, Jason informed us.

The process removes the backing paper through grinding and sieving the material. The waste paper is accepted by the paper recyclers. Overband magnets and sieves remove the metal fraction which is also recycled. Workers will also do a manual pick as the material is loaded into the hopper.

The market in England is approximately 1.4 million tonnes annually. Jason has five competitors, three are about the same size and material is sourced from all over England. Sales to farmers attract a £35 per tonne fee while the fines get £20 per tonne. Last year he did sales of the fines of around 48,000 tonnes.

Site visits

The City  of London

The City of London, no not the greater metropolis of 8 million people, but the original city (the one square mile surrounded by the wall that the Romans built in 190 AD) is responsible for the waste services for its 7,000 residents, the 350,000 daily workers and over 2,000,000 visitors that flock to see one of its main attractions, the Tower of London, each year. Litter bins were mostly removed some years ago after the London bombings but have made a comeback recently to try and cope with the huge amount of wast that is generated daily. Whilst there is some litter around, it's not hard to see how quickly a problem it would be for civic pride if it wasn't dealt with quickly. Of course being the Olympics meant that there has been added attention to ensuring the City stayed clean.

The waste service is also probably one of the most unusual in that it's a transfer station located on the Thames River and barges are used to send the waste down river to a large landfill some 20 miles away.

According to Joe Kingston, recycling manager of the City of London, residents of the City place their waste and recycling out in plastic bags which are still manually collected twice weekly from central points and brought to the transfer station where it is compacted into containers before being craned over the pedestrian walkway onto the barge. 

The city tendered it's commercial and domestic waste services out to the private sector recently on a 7 + 7 contract, however commercial waste services remain fully competitive with the private waste sector. 

The council's contractor provides a refuse service, commingled recycling, food waste, confidential documents, and street cleansing services, employing over 100 staff working three shifts, employing a variety of means to get around including wheel barrows with brooms, street sweepers and even an electric van that putters around the city in the dead of night emptying street bins.

Wallbrook wharf, where the transfer station is located, has been in the City's possession since 1440.  It was first proposed as refuse disposal site in 1948 but took a further fifteen years to get through the City planning before opening in 1963. The waste used to be tipped into open barges before being containerized in 1995.  The material is taken downriver to the Muckering landfill where the material is incinerated in a waste to energy plant. 

Of approximately the 50,000 tonnes of waste arisings collected by the contractor each year, thirty three percent is recycled.  

The City's location, the narrow streets and lack of space for bins, combined with the tidal movements of people each day, ensure that the City of London has among some of the biggest challenges relating to waste removal in this country.

Powerday recyclers

Powerday is the largest recycler of commercial and industrial waste in London and operates on a 9 acre site on the North Western outskirts of the city, bounded by railway lines and a canal. A long, narrow, single width lane that crosses the railway tracks is the only way in and out.  Refuse truck drivers certainly earn their hard earned in this country!

While we were there, a steady stream of skip trucks arrived to drop off their loads, which are directed to the external hard stand if C&D material. It is then loaded into trommels and separated into a series of fractions: large and small aggregates and fines. These materials have markets and are sold back into construction and industry while the consolidated fines less than 25mm are taken by landfills as cover.

The commercial waste is discharged onto the floor inside one of the two large covered buildings where a team of pickers pull out metals, plastic and timber. It is then loaded into a hopper and belt where a series of overband magnets, shakers, blowers and screens continue to refine the material. The resultant light fraction comprising largely plastic film, paper and foam is then fed through a shredder to become refuse derived fuel. Timber, including pallets, are separately ground and are also used as a refuse derived fuel for the Slough power station or if there is some demand for it as animal bedding.

The site processes approximately 1,500 tonnes per day.

Gate fees charged by the company are understandably hard to come  by, but the UK landfill tax (yes they call it a tax) of £64 per tonne has driven resource recovery and there is widespread support for its further increase (of up £80 by two years time) both from the recyclers and the industry associations. A price of £2 per tonne is charged for inert rubble in recognition of its zero carbon emissions and it's use for daily cover.

The UK recycling industry also has the added diversion option of a waste to energy stream for the floc material though we noted the added OH&S issues that it causes with dust and the difficulty that this poses for the operations.

Fifteen Australian delegates representing waste companies from Victoria, NSW and Queensland, Government representatives and the Exec officers from the industry associations gathered in London on Monday 3rd September to begin the UK waste tour. My Queensland counterpart, Rick Ralph from Waste and Recycling Industries Queensland is to be congratulated for putting together such a terrific schedule of meetings with waste agencies and site visits. The programme promises to be interesting and comprehensive.

Day 1 was spent at the City of London's offices in Upper Thames St in the centre of the city. It's hard to imagine a waste station located on the banks of the Yarra squeezed between Princes Bridge and Flinders St station, let alone a barge moored to the bank to receive 25 containers of compacted waste every few days, to take them down the river to a landfill located some 20 or 30 miles away, but it happens here in London and its an exercise in extreme logistics.

Dr Adam Read, a jaunty Londoner with a cockney accent and a knack of getting a laugh, puts the group at ease as he swings into an overview of the waste and recycling in Britain. As a consultant with what used to be the Atomic Energy Authority, he is well placed to give a no frills appraisal of what works and what doesn't and some of the barriers to change. As we are to find in later presentations, administrative arrangements for waste are spread over A number of authorities, not all of them working together easily at the same time. Our colleague from Sustainability Victoria can emphathise while some of the waste company guys are left scratching their heads as to how anything could ever get done.

To complicate the domestic situation, the UK is part of the European Union on waste and therefore must meet their requirements including the preparation of a National Waste Strategy and requirements for methane reduction under the Landfill Directive of 1999. This latter regulation is really driving organics diversion to reduce methane reduction as part of the climate change measures the EU has committed to.

Day two of the UK waste tour was spent again with the City of London waste division - their hospitality to the Australian delegation has been excellent. We were given more briefings from several government authorities including the Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Local Government Association, the Greater London Authority and the Environment Agency.

It's hard not to conclude that England has a very bureaucratic approach with many players in the waste space that do not always agree or have a concordant approach. However it seems that the agencies accept the situation and nevertheless work as best they can. It makes one reflect on the Victorian situation of regulation and puts some of the frustrations of overlapping responsibilities into context.

The last speaker is from the Environment Agency and he gives a presentation that is very similar in terms of the themes of environment protection and enforcement and education that our EPA might give.

Today the group commences a look at some of the facilities that treat London's waste.