Not all rubbish is waste

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Wetherby U3a Green Group invited me to join them on a visit to Veolia on the outskirts of Leeds, which is the impressive state-of-the-art Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility (RERF) for our rubbish, writes Caroline Green.

As we approached by car, the size and beauty of the building was evident for all to see. The internationally renowned architect, Jean-Robert Mazaud of S’pace Architects has produced an award-winning complex which has also won the Responsible Business of the Year Award 2016/2017.

Developed by Veolia the UK’s leading resource management company, on behalf of Leeds City Council, and commissioned last year, the plant has been built with the latest recycling and recovery technology to help transform residents’ black bag waste into a resource.

The building processes all of the 2 million bins emptied every month from across the city, of which Wetherby is part. Utilizing the latest technology the plant separates out recyclable materials recovering a final waste material to burn and generate energy. The site is also home to Europe’s largest vertical green living wall of 111,000 plants that stretches 1,800m2across the front of this nine storey building and is home to insect boxes supported by the largest timber archway in Europe.

The site generates 11MW of energy enough electricity to power 22,000 homes via the National Grid and will help boost Leeds recycling rates with the future aim of becoming a zero waste city.

As the Wetherby & District U3A group gathered in the reception area, I found myself in the midst of a very knowledgeable group of people many of who thought, and lived as sustainably as they possibly could. We were welcomed by Sarah, from Veolia and Vince, from Leeds City Council and escorted to the Visitor Centre upstairs which offers people the opportunity to learn more about the facility and educate visitors on waste and recycling in Leeds.

As we emerged from the lift on the seventh floor we looked out over the Leeds city scape in one direction and in the other looked down through a glass window to a huge ‘grabber’ operating below us.

What we saw was the heart of the recycling process; our own rubbish being moved about through the process of sorting, shredding, and in a constant stream of 20 tons an hour pouring into the huge bin. It was being stirred, lifted and moved into a furnace which was burning rubbish 24 hrs a day 365 days of the year at a temperature of 850 + degrees C. There was no smell, the place was immaculately clean and the care and attention to detail for visitors was stunning.

We were all asked to don hi vis jackets, boots, glasses and hard hats for our tour. Prior to this we had received a talk from both Sarah and Vince from their different areas of expertise. They answered many questions, showed a Health and Safety film.

This is such a well-run operation, slick, informative, welcoming, respectful and full of information. I can give you a few facts which will make your head spin - Leeds is a city of 750,000 people, and between us we produce 165,000 tons of waste which costs £17million each year to dispose of. It used to go to landfill but is now delivered to RERF and processed instead. The recyclable material is sold on, reused, recycled and the remainder is burnt, producing gases which are neutralized. The residue is used to produce road aggregates and breeze blocks.

What a great way to spend a couple of hours. This building and its operation opened my eyes to rubbish, my rubbish. It made me think and made me look anew at my ‘stuff’ and how to recycle effectively.

If you’d like to know more about Wetherby & District U3A please go to the website www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk