On Friday, myself and Mike, along with other members of staff from across the university went along to the Materials Recovery Facility in Leeds to have a tour of the facility and do a waste audit on one day’s worth of campus’ waste! The University achieves a zero waste to landfill performance so it was interesting to see how this is done, and the continuing challenges!
It was an eye-opening (if slightly smelly) experience! The sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had been put into general waste bins and not recycled was really shocking. The first sight through the door was piles of general waste from Leeds City Council, waiting to be put through the various sorting mechanisms. It was a sight that would make anyone take another second to think about if they really needed to throw the coke bottle in the general waste instead of the plastic bin right next to it.
The sorting mechanisms for each material were interesting – the combination of sorting by hand and mechanical sorting, showing that not everything can be automated yet within this industry. There was a different mechanism for each material, and several different systems to account for the different types of plastics. The general sustainability of the business seemed pretty holistic. The waste which cannot be recycled due to being a composite material or too contaminated is shredded and sent to an energy-from-waste incinerator instead of landfill, but still only a small percentage is sent there.
One of my favourite aspects of the facility was the attempt to make links and relationships with local businesses who use and buy the material to recycle and reform it. Very little of the material was sent abroad, which shows there is a local market for recycled materials.
There was a corner of the facility where all the general waste from the campus from Thursday was collected, and it was estimated at around three tonnes. The pile was astounding, but what was more astounding was the proportion of materials which could have easily gone straight in the recycling bin. This included a whole black bag of shredded paper, a bag of glass bottles, a bag of cardboard and more plastic bottles than you could imagine.
Even though I consider myself a bit of a recycling geek, the visit really brought home to me the sheer scale of the waste that is produced on a daily basis, and although one coke bottle here and there may not seem like it affects much, but scaled up, the impact is huge.