Composting Capers

Have you ever wondered what happens to the waste you put into your green bin? Well, a group of us today visited the Waste Management Centre at Waterbeach to find out.composting-capers

After a stern health and safety video (it’s a huge industrial site, with a lot of heavy vehicles moving around it all the time) we had fun sorting a bag full of rubbish into various heaps depending on whether we thought we could recycle them. CDs? Old video tapes? Crisp packets? (All in the black bin, sadly.) Then, after the kids made Halloween ghosts out of recycled materials, we all donned high-vis jackets and hard hats and were taken in a minibus round the site.

We saw the huge containers where the shredded waste from our green bins is kept for six weeks, at a temperature of at least 60o to kill off any harmful bugs. We saw the great piles of steaming compost, after it had been taken out of the bins, ready to be sifted before being sold to farmers or given away free to the public as soil conditioner. And shockingly, we also saw the great piles of contaminated compost – green bin waste that had been through the same process but, because it also contains plastic, can’t be used on the soil and has to go to landfill. And we were shown the current landfill site – an enormous pit, likely to be completely filled in only 18 months; a very sobering sight.

Next stop was the facility where the rubbish from our blue bins is sorted – a vast maze of conveyor belts where various processes (magnets, sieves, lights) can sort the tins from the glass from the plastic, paper and card, process it and pack it into bales for use in an astonishing variety of things – from crushed glass for roadmaking, to plastic bottles to make football shirts.

So lots of things to think about after a fascinating visit:

  • Recycle carefully and encourage others to do the same.
  • Make sure your green bin only holds compostable waste. Never put plastic bags in (even if they are biodegradable).
  • And gardeners, take a spade and some strong bags to the waste management site and collect free soil improver for your veg patch, completing a virtuous circle.

(Written by Annie Jackson)