IF BRISTOL is to win EU Green Capital in 2014, we need to improve our waste management significantly. Not that we don’t have a good track record, after all we send less to landfill than Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham (which has been a recent cultural comparison) and Sheffield. At last night’s public meeting about Bristol’s waste management future, Councillor Gary Hopkins and May Gurney’s Nick Francis were united behind the idea that “it’s not just recycling that matters”. The idea of a ‘zero-waste’ city, one where its residents contribute nothing to landfill, requires us to severely reduce the amount of waste we generate in the first place. Whilst this prevention over cure method will be no easy task, it is, we were told, the essential route to take. The way we live in the UK, and in Bristol, just isn’t sustainable.
Part of our landfill-free future will only be made possible of we are able to better dispose of waste which is not reusable to some degree. Bristol’s answer to this, which originally took the form of an incinerator, has long been a controversy. The current facility, which will be completed at the Avonmouth site late this year, is a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility. New Earth, who are contracted to provide the plant for the West of England Partnership, explain that waste streams are sorted mechanically for recycling, and biodegradable waste is composted to create a useable resource. Pyrolysis gasification will also be available on the same site, generating energy from waste. Hopkins’ suggests this will direct “over 98 percent of disposable waste away from landfill”, and certainly will help reach his dream of a ‘zero-waste’ city in two years. The plan is to generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes, all from resources we’ve used once before.
As a science communicator though, I was really pleased to meet Julian Okoye, engineer and business development manger at GENeco. As part of Wessex Water, it’s their job to embed sustainability in the waste management processes of the company, and Julian gave the meeting some interesting points about how this is done. By recycling waste solids and gases from sewage treatment processes, the company create 36 GWh per year of electricity. This makes them a massive renewable energy provider for the South West region. As Wessex Water use over one and a half times the annual energy consumption of Bristol West, it is instrumental that they find a better way to source their energy. Their commitment to be carbon neutral and zero waste is inspiring, but it seems to be logical. The two aims are mutually synergistic; as Julian puts it: “We don’t see it as waste, it’s a resource”.
As Bristol looks to the future, its problems will remain the same as ever: working on management with neighboring authorities, the cost of creating new facilities, and most interesting from my point of view, engaging and educating the public about how to get the best out of the path we are taking towards a greener tomorrow. I’d bet on the 45 people or so sat in our meeting yesterday all being there because they already knew and cared about the issues (a ‘prior engaged’ audience). As a communicator, and a liberal, I want to know how we really get the rest on board. It’ll be a hard slog, but we have no choice.