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On the rubbish trail - what happens to our black sacks

This summer the Thameside Nature Park finally opened on the site of the vast 845-acre landfill tip at Mucking. For nearly 30 years London’s waste has been sent down the Thames and dumped in this appropriately named pit. During that time we have become more aware of the impact of climate change and there has been a revolution in recycling. Now most of us separate our dry recyclables and green waste from the rest of what we throw away. Recycling and composting levels in the City are amongst the highest in London - over 40% - thanks to our diligence. And Mucking has been transformed into a nature reserve - so what happens now to the other 60% of our waste - the stuff that goes into our black sacks? By Sarah Hudson

Barges at Walbrook wharf T

he City has become the first London borough that does not send any waste to landfill. Instead our residual black sack waste is now

helping to fuel a power plant that provides electricity for 100,000 London homes.

A new energy from waste plant run by Cory Environmental has been built at Belvedere on the Thames on the site of an old oil fired power station. It took 15 years to gain planning permission, but now the £345 million plant is operational and is part way through a year-long performance trial. It is designed to handle 585,000 tonnes of non-recyclable residual waste each year and generate 66MW of electricity for export to the National Grid.

The Barbican Association

Sustainability Group visited the plant in June this year. It sits close to the Thames shore with an elegantly curved roof like a breaking wave. It is uncannily quiet - as we wandered down the approach road all we could hear was the rustle of reeds and the calls of warblers from the surrounding nature reserve. We thought the plant must be out of action as only one waste truck overtook us in 15 minutes. As it turned out this was not surprising as 85% of the waste is delivered by barge


to the deep-water jetty. This means there are 100,000 fewer lorry journeys on London’s roads each year since the plant opened.

Our black bag waste is collected

“100,000 fewer lorry journeys on London’s roads each year”

from the Barbican by lorry and compacted into yellow containers at Walbrook Wharf on Lower Thames Street. The containers are loaded onto barges once or twice a week and taken

by tug down river to the plant. The movement of waste follows the rhythm of the tides. The barges at Walbrook Wharf in the City can only be collected at high tide and the tugs take advantage of the ebb for a relatively free ride down river to Belvedere. Empty barges and containers are delivered back to the City on the flood.

The containers are trucked the short distance to the plant and the waste fed into three combustion lines. The plant is voracious and can burn 30 tonnes an hour - so waste is delivered continuously. Only Christmas Day is quiet on the river - but the plant still generates electricity.

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