Deanery Environment Group: Allerton Waste Recovery Park

What happens to the contents of our black bins ?

This might not be the first question you ask yourself when you wake up in the morning, but it was a question that the Easingwold Deanery Environment Group wanted to find the answer to. Until very recently it all went to unsightly and smelly land fill, such as that at Rufforth. But in March all that changed. Amey, on behalf of City of York and North Yorkshire County Council, completed and started operating a very large Waste Recovery operation at Allerton Park, next to the A1 just south of Boroughbridge. This had taken a number of years to move from drawing board to operation and it was not without strong opposition. But our Councils eventually achieved their vision of zero landfill by creating one site to deal with all our black bin waste.

Of course our black bins are the place of last resort for our rubbish. We should first try to reduce the amount of waste we generate and reuse where possible. Then we should separate out our clean recyclables such as cans, bottles, paper and certain plastics, as these have more value than if they are dirty. Unfortunately infrared scanners cannot see through black plastic to detect the type of plastic, so this has to go into black bin waste.

When our black bins are emptied the waste goes to one of seven holding depots across our large county, and from there transported in large trucks to the Recovery Park, 1600 Tonnes of rubbish are processed each day (320,000 in a year). The black bin bags are torn open and the contents are are separated out.

Fine material which contains organic matter such as food waste and dog poo goes to the anaerobic digester where natural organisms break it down and produce methane which can then be burnt to generate electricity. Larger waste travels on conveyor belts over long distances as metals and plastics are extracted by ingenious devices such as magnets, x-rays and infra red scanners. A final human check is made on the remaining waste before it goes into a huge incinerator where it is burnt at very high temperatures, often reaching over 1200oC. The heat creates steam which drives turbines, generating sufficient electricity for over 40,000 homes. After incineration less than 10% of the original waste remains and even this ash is used to make aggregates. The smoke from the incinerator is treated to ensure no toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere.

It was a very impressive site to visit and even though, for health and safety reasons, visitors can only see a small amount, the scale of the operations is striking.

The Easingwold Deanery Environment Group intends to organise another visit in the new year, so if you are interested watch out for further information.