Go Green Week is easily one of my favourite events in the University calendar, it’s a chance for student environmentalists to go all-out and celebrate their green spaces, promote eco-friendly lifestyles and do something positive in the community such as a litter pick or tree planting. Here at TSD Swansea Environment Society, we decided to do something a little different…
The Universities waste from it’s Carmarthen and Swansea campuses is all collected and taken to the same place: Nantycaws, Carmarthenshire. The site is operated by CWM Environmental, who were only to happy to give us a tour of their facilities as part of Go Green Week. We arrived at midday, having left Swansea and collected students from Carmarthen in the minibus en route. We were met by Andrew and Bruce who gave us our tour, starting with the general waste. We saw how general waste is compacted then bailed and shrink wrapped in plastic, which makes it easier to transport and, if landfilled, prevents vermin from eating it. The general waste is sold where possible to energy from waste plants (incinerators which recover the energy from the waste by burning it and generating electricity using the heat), and landfilled as a last resort. We saw how mattresses were cut open and had their springs removed and recycled, and the soft part bailed for burning.
By far my favourite part, though, was the sorting line. In an impressive array of conveyor belts, magnets and human workers, recyclable materials entered the warehouse at one end and were gradually separated by type and quality of material. First off, small pieces of recycling were siphoned off using a simple system where anything small enough would fall through a hole, and the larger pieces continued on their way. The smaller pieces were then passed under a magnet to pick up any bottle caps. Soft plastics (such as plastic bags and food wrappers) were sorted by hand and fed into suction pipes above the workers heads. Next, the materials were ballistically separated (which essentially means they were jiggled around and shaken) mechanically to separate everything out and make sure it wasn't stuck together. Further workers then pulled out the paper and cardboard, and the waste then went through a magnet which attracted the steel cans. Aluminium separation was slightly different, as it was repelled by a certain type of magnet, so it was essentially “thrown” off the conveyor at this point.
Sounds simple, but the scale and noise of the machinery, and the sheer quantity of waste being sorted, left us slightly in awe. The different types of waste were then bailed up and sent to be “dressed” before being shipped overseas for recycling. We were told by Andrew that the vast majority of recyclables which they process are sold overseas, as the UK lacks the infrastructure to create goods from recycled materials. This is a real shame, as shipping the materials around the world uses energy, which could be saved if we recycled them right here in the UK.
One thing which we were impressed by was a polystyrene compactor. The machine crushes the polystyrene beads together, removing any air, but it still looks a lot like polystyrene. We were taken aback by the weight of the crushed polystyrene blocks! We were also treated to a sneak peak of the composting facilities, where the Universities food waste is processed. After being treated, the smelly, muddy looking fertilizer is laid out in “windrows” that are aerated periodically. Once ready, this is sorted by particle size (large or small) and bagged up then sold as “Merlin's Magic Compost”. We picked up five bags to use on the Carmarthen campus allotments!
Once the tour was completed, we had a chance to ask questions and discuss amongst ourselves what had surprised us most about the facilities. We all agreed that we would be communicating our experience back to other students to promote recycling and contaminant reduction (putting things in the correct recycling bin). Louie noted that he had found it very interesting from a Business perspective, as it was a case study which he hadn’t considered before. We hope you enjoyed your Go Green Week as much as we did!