Western Riverside Waste Authority process waste and recycling for the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea. On 10th September a group of volunteers had a very informative guided tour of their Recycling Centre in Wandsworth. We were told “10am at Smugglers Way – don’t be late, wear comfortable, sturdy shoes and be prepared to be amazed”. We were not disappointed.
The tour was led by Liz Horsfield assisted by her colleague Jon Long – Education Officers at WRWA - and was a fascinating insight as to what happens to the tonnes of rubbish and recycling that are delivered there every day. At the entrance to the site we walked past huge bales of recycled plastic each weighing between 600 kilos and 1 ton, piled 3 bales high and tied with strong metal wire. Sorted by types of plastic and colour, we were reminded of art installations found in London’s galleries.
Each full lorry is weighed on arrival to ensure the correct fee is charged to the relevant borough council. Black bags of rubbish are compressed into containers and loaded onto barges to be transported by river to Bexley where it is incinerated. The steam produced from the incineration then drives turbines to produce energy. Even the resulting ash from the waste is recycled eg as aggregate for road building.
After a short presentation about the history of recycling we went to the Education Room where the tables and chairs were made from recycled plastic and home-made fabric bunting hung from the ceiling. There was also a display of examples of art and craft items, some of which were made at Work and Play.
We were shown an excellent 15 minute film which demonstrated the importance of recycling. Every school aged child should be urged to watch this and encourage their parents to reduce, reuse and recycle more. It was important for us to see where scrapstores fit into the bigger picture regarding waste reduction. We were informed that people can bring old appliances, furniture or bikes to the Recycling Centre to be reconditioned which provides local employment. These are then passed to charity shops for sale to the public. For more information see http://www.wrwa.gov.uk/reuse/reuse-workshop.aspx.
Kitted out with hard hats, high visibility jackets and goggles we then had a tour of the machine room (Materials Recovery Facility or MRF). The machine itself is currently the only one in the country built on 3 levels due to lack of floor space, and it was amazing to see how it separates all the different types of materials, although human intervention is of course needed at some of the stages.
Contamination is one of the biggest challenges with processing items for recycling. We were told that we should, for example, wash our cans before putting them in a recycling bag because residual food – as well as smelling bad - contaminates the paper in the bag. Contamination can result in the whole bag being destroyed. (Click here for more information)
We ended the tour with a fun session where were able to use our creative skills to make fancy paper for use in greetings cards, gift labels or artwork.
Schools and community groups based in one of the 4 participating boroughs can organise free guided tours of the facility, and residents in these boroughs can also join one of the regular tours on offer. Note that children are not allowed into the machine room for obvious reasons! Contact Liz Horsfield, the WRWA Education Officer on 020 8875 8889 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We thoroughly recommend this tour – afterwards you'll think twice about putting that dirty food container containing bits of last night's curry into your recycling bag or throwing your newspaper out with the rubbish.