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Smugglers Way Materials Recycling Facility

Where does our rubbish go?

Ever wondered where your rubbish – both the sort you put in the orange recycling bags and the black bags - goes? Golborne Life accepted an invitation to visit to the Smugglers Way Materials Recycling Facility, ably guided by operations manager Stephen Bond.

Once the bin lorries have made their twice-weekly visit to your street, they head south to cross the River Thames at Wandsworth Bridge. Then it’s a right turn and a short drive to the Western Riverside Waste Authority’s facility at Smuggler’s Way, on the river bank.

This large plant is the last word in modern waste handling. It’s operated by a company called Cory Environmental which has run barges up and down the Thames for over a century. The Smuggler’s Way site takes rubbish from Kensington & Chelsea, plus three other London boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth and Lambeth.

The trucks dump their black bag haul – the stuff that can’t be recycled - into large hoppers at one side of the facility. This rubbish is then compacted, packed into containers and sent down the Thames to the energy from waste facility at Belvedere, which lies to the east of Woolwich on the south of the river. The rubbish is transported on 300-tonne capacity barges pulled by tugs.

Opened this year, the £570 million Belvedere plant burns the waste at a minimum temperatures of 850° centigrade, and uses the heat to generate electricity. At full annual capacity, the facility can turn 585,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste into enough electricity to power over 100,000 homes.

About 30 percent of the rubbish is left as ash after burning and this is recycled and used for road building and construction aggregates. A further residue of dangerous waste is disposed of in dedicated landfill. Until the new Belvedere plant started operating, all non-recyclable rubbish was disposed of in a landfill at the aptly named Mucking. That site is now closed and will be turned into a nature reserve.

The recyclable rubbish, from the orange bags, is dumped into hoppers on the other side of the Smuggler’s Way plant. From there, it’s transported through the three-storey high processing plant where it is sorted into different types such as cardboard, plastics, cans and glass.

This process involves some 100 conveyor belts that run in a puzzling criss-cross through the plant. Much of the sorting is done automatically using a system of lights, which can identify different types of waste, and air blowers that sort it out. However, the technology is not infallible and this means that humans still have to work in the plant to quality control the process by hand.

The resulting recycled material is then sold on to be used by a variety of manufacturers to make recycled paper, cardboard glass and plastics.

A visit to Smuggler’s Way confirms that it really is worth sorting your household waste into orange recycling and black non-recycling bags. Everything you throw out is being put to good use.

Western Riverside Waste Authority