What a load of rubbish

An experience that had one of the biggest impacts on my life was also one of the filthiest, writes Robert Zarywacz of the North Devon Journal. Nothing prepared me for the visit to a massive landfill site some 20 years ago when I was covering the opening of a landfill gas power generation plant. I was totally surrounded by mountains of stinking, rotting rubbish, all of it generated by us. I believe all young people should visit a landfill site to realise the environmental impact of our consumer lifestyle and understand the importance of sustainability.

This was brought to mind when I was invited to accompany Petroc students on a visit to SWM’s Waste Recycling Transfer Station in South Molton. For decades the answer to what to do with waste has been to bury it in a hole at a landfill site: out of site, out of mind. This is no longer an option and SWM’s forward-looking approach to waste management demonstrates what is possible as it moves towards its goal of zero waste to landfill. I was guided round the site by SWM’s Rex Bassett, who explained that it handles some 500 tonnes of general or mixed municipal waste every month. I watched as mounds of commercial waste from businesses across the area was fed into the Materials Recycling Facility which sorts and separates waste into different types for recycling. The site currently achieves a recycling rate of 52% which is planned to increase to 60% or more by the end of the year. Recovered materials are sold across the world for recycling, whilst residual waste is sent to the MVV Devonport Energy from Waste plant. SWM keeps all destinations under review to ensure it uses the most sustainable operations. As the huge mound to be sorted reminds us, business produced large volumes of waste and need to consider reasonable ways of dealing with it to minimise the impact on our environment. Rex explained that simple measures such as separating food from other waste can make a big difference so that it does not contaminate materials preventing them from being recycled. While it’s easy to be impressed by many of the technological innovations achieved by businesses in the area, it’s equally important to recognise the importance of innovation in waste handling being achieved at facilities such as SWM’s South Molton site. All businesses have to think more closely about how they deal with their waste. “All young people should visit a landfill site to realise the environmental impact of our consumer lifestyle and understand the importance of sustainability.”