‘Field’ Trip to Allerton Waste Recovery Park, 6th December 2019

As we shivered in the car park at the AWRP site, the 12 members of HDNS were thinking that indoor field trips were a very good idea in winter! In fact this trip was the most popular we have ever organised, fully booked the day after the newsletter came out! Clearly, household rubbish is more alluring than wildlife…
The reams of paperwork with rules, restrictions and warnings had led us to expect a Fort Knox like institution, but we had an informal welcome into the smart new visitor centre, with free drinks on offer, and were treated to an informative and well-illustrated description of the plant’s main processes. Quite a lot of this was new to most of us, for instance the high-tech sorting facilities which diverted various metals, paper, different coloured plastics etc to other downstream processes. Only the completely non-recyclable material is actually burned. The organic material is fermented in a huge anaerobic digester which produces methane used on the site.
One of the good things about the visit was that we were encouraged to ask questions – and we had plenty. After this introduction we set off on our tour of the plant, where we discovered that simply watching household rubbish moving up a conveyor belt is completely fascinating. … We were struck by the size and complexity of the engineering, occupying vast halls several storeys high. A monstrous claw operated from behind a glass screen as it scooped tonnes of rubbish and added them to a huge pile, ready for the incinerator which could be seen glowing in the background. Like our guide, the operators of the machinery were very ready to talk about the job. Allerton Park employs about 90 staff, but we saw few of them as the jobs we saw were highly automated. There is however a stage of hand-picking at the end of the sorting process, but we did not see this except on video.
Last stage was the control room, and again the staff were happy to chat, showed us their screens on which the gases from the incinerator are constantly displayed, and many other statistics involved in monitoring the process.

We all felt we had learnt a lot, and on the whole were more favourably disposed to what we had previously considered to be just a blot on the landscape. Very different from the usual field trip, but fascinating and relevant nonetheless.

Muff Upsall

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