Landfill – zero

A day trip to Leeds might involve mooching round the ornate Victorian shopping arcades, a visit to Leeds City Art Gallery, or to one of the theatres. It might involve some serious retail therapy.

What it wouldn’t normally involve is Cross Green, an unlovely sprawling industrial estate to the south east of the city centre.  Acres of modern rectangular industrial buildings surround large wholesale markets, and any housing squeezes up into the north of the patch.

But Cross Green is home to one of Leeds’ most exciting new buildings.  Here, on its southern face is a striking living wall, one of the largest in Europe, providing biodiversity in an otherwise wholly man-made environment.

Leeds RERF’s Living Wall.

The building itself relies heavily on glass and elegant timber framing.  It’s something of an anachronism in a zone of modern concrete boxes.

This is Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility.  

A scale model of Leeds RERF.

These days we’re all encouraged to recycle – glass, paper, tins, plastic, garden waste  – even, in some local authorities, food waste.  By rights, little should need to find its way into those black bags steadily filling every landfill site in the country.  But it does.

The advanced technology in this building aims to prevent that: and thanks to our friends Graham and Trish, we spent an afternoon finding out how.

We started out in one of the meeting rooms, looking through glass to watch a monstrous grab working with up to 6 tonnes per grab of shredded miscellaneous waste.  This was waste at the end of its journey, but still useful.


Come with us.  Put on the work boots they give you, the hi-viz jacket, the safety helmet and the goggles.  Come with us and we walk from point to point in this immense building.

Malcolm’s all togged up for the visit.

Here are the monitors which – er- monitor every part of the plant.  Look carefully and you’ll see flames on one of the screens.

Monitors at work.

This is an incinerator which burns the unrecoverable waste we had been looking at earlier, to produce heat.  The heat turns water into steam.  The steam powers a turbine.  The turbine generates about  13 MW of electricity – enough to supply the needs of 22,000 homes.  Emissions are carefully controlled, cleaned and captured, and the ash generated by this unimaginably hot bonfire is used as aggregate in road building.

Before that though, materials which could have been recycled earlier are extracted.  Paper and card are blown from the refuse.  Metals are fished out by magnets.  We couldn’t take pictures as we walked round the plant, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

There’s not really a market for the degraded paper which finds its way here.  But next time you take an egg from an egg box, or find yourself staring at a sick-bowl in hospital, or need to buy some paper-based animal bedding, you might be using something that started out in the RERF in Leeds.

I could blind you with facts and figures, but I think it’s enough to know that Leeds is helping to meet its ambitious zero-waste plans with projects such as this.  We, wherever we live, have an obligation to develop our own personal zero-waste strategies. Maybe you have a group you could join, like our own Plastic Free Ripon?  More of that in another post.

The entrance to Leeds RERF.

Click on any image to see it full size.

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

30 thoughts on “Landfill – zero”

  1. I’m a recycling nut, so I would really have enjoyed that tour. Let’s hope the deposit scheme goes ahead. We saw a living wall in the David Attenborough Building at Cambridge — most impressive.

    One thing that frustrates me in the UK is how different all the local councils’ recycling schemes are. I have to take all our foil and non-bottle-shaped plastics down to Exeter to recycle in our friends’ bin, for instance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Rebecca, I know! It’s so confusing. Some places recycle tetra packs, some don’t. This plastic is OK here, but not there. Some places you can mix your recycling, others not ….. it goes on and on. I too am a recycling nut.


  2. So glad to read this. I love learning about places that are trying to lesson the impact on our planet. I recently learned of Sweden’s reduction of their waste. Now only 1% ends up in the landfill.

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  3. In my official capacity I’ve spent many happy hours in recycling facilities, MRFs & incinerators (or energy from waste plants which is the euphemism of choice). I have done this on both sides of la manche. No where have I seen anything as imaginative as a green wall as part of one of these installations. Well done Leeds. Of course besides imaginative architects which are not too hard to find you need imaginative planning departments which in my experience present much more of a challenge!

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    1. Crumbs. Waste management in France. Now that is a bit of one-upmanship. But Northern Europe seems to be the place to go. Sweden anyone? Germany?


  4. Looks like a very interesting tour. I am it energized you with new things you could be doing to reduce your footprint. Several years ago, I took a class called “Where does it go?” it was all about our waste from solid to liquid and everything in between. We visited several locations to get a first-hand view of the resources we waste and how new industries are being created to hand the flow of our waste. It was incredibly interesting and eye-opening. I came home energized to work at recycling as much as I could and reducing my overall footprint. I am still learning every day. Have a wonderful week and weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all good stuff. And yes, our household still has a long way to go to become zero-waste. But we’re trying! Happy Easter to you too.


  5. Very interesting, thank you. I keep meaning to find out more about the sorting and transporting of waste that is collected here – a complex process and processing plants are limited as far as I understand. Anyway, at least recycling is catching on, but I wish more businesses would do it.

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  6. Excellent. Interesting that Rochdale had a system for generating electricity by burning rubbish 70 years ago.

    Sent from my iPad

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  7. This is so impressive, in design, in philosophy, in action! The living wall is a thing of beauty but it’s all beautiful, really. Is Leeds leading the way or is this sort of thing happening all over?


    1. Well, our own North Yorkshire facility is all but finished. It’s definitely part of a happening movement. Leeds comes in at Number 3 in the national recycling effort..


  8. What a fascinating visit. Like other comments I think one of the problems in the U.K. is all the different systems – so confusing. I’m just getting my head round recycling in France, most of it is fine but why can’t I recycle a yoghurt pot?

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  9. Very impressive! I love the living wall! There is a small one on the side of M & S in Norwich which I like to look at (though it is looking a little worse for wear after a few gales, frosts and snow storms this winter!) Suffolk used to be good at recycling but to save money (I suspect) some of the facilities have been withdrawn in the past couple of years. False economy I think.

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  10. A HUGE Bravo to Leeds – important and inspiring and full of courage. We (as ‘brave Suisses’ do) are ‘working’ towards near zero waste for years already but France as a whole is not terribly advanced. We in our community here however are doing pretty ok I feel, we may put all (really all!) packaging in one huge trolley and bags with household waste in another and everything (except for strikes, ‘couldn’t see your bin although we were driving over it’ and other reasons) is being collected twice per week. We never have any full bins but it’s pretty impressive.

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  11. I’ve always found it a fascinating building, but had no real idea what went on inside, so thank you for the tour. I shall possibly be waving at it in passing on 23rd or 26th of this month, depending on the route the coach takes to Manchester airport…. maybe not? 🙂 🙂

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