Where others saw the obligation to reduce waste imposed by the European Union (35% over 25 years for the UK) as a constraint, Southwark saw an opportunity.
Why bury or transport the 120,000 tons of waste produced in Southwark every year when it is possible to treat it locally to recycle most of it or convert it into energy?
Southwark is one of London's most picturesque areas through the presence of the Globe, a reconstruction of Shakespeare's theatre, the tallest building in the European Union, The Shard, and the largest and oldest food market in London, Borough Market. Located near the city centre, Southwark is also a model in the application of the circular economy.
A key idea drove Southwark Council in 2006: why transport the near 120,000 tons of waste produced by Southwark residents each year, when it is possible to reuse, recycle it and produce energy?
They called on the services of Veolia, which built a £60 million, state-of-the-art, integrated waste management facility with four units. The first unit is an ultra-modern sorting centre, which separates high quality materials using optical character recognition; the second is a reuse and recycling centre for residents of Southwark. The third is a transfer station, which separates bulky waste and packages up organic waste to be sent to an in-vessel composting facility. And finally, the fourth is a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) unit, which mechanically separates any recyclable waste from residual waste. The remaining waste is treated biologically in a drying process that transforms the waste into a carbon efficient, renewable fuel. This is then transported to the nearby energy recovery facility, SELCHP, to produce energy, hot water and heating for the local district heating network.
A first in London:
2,500 specially equipped homes (10,000 people) use this alternative to conventional gas-fired boilers. This is the first time in London that a co-generation plant uses biodegraded waste as fuel. Besides the price advantage for Southwark citizens, 22,000 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided each year. These materials, which would have been buried before, are given a second use. Going even further in the circular economy, Veolia even transforms ash produced by SELCHP into earthworks and road construction materials.
Results are more than encouraging: 120,000 tons of Southwark’s waste is treated every year (Southwark, clean sweep) The borough’s recycling rate has increased by 70% since the beginning of the contract, from 20% in 2008 to 34% in 2014, which is a fine example of optimum waste management.
Main picture: Veolia ES Limited’s photo library - Chris George