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