London Design Festival: A Visit to the Powerday Waste Recycling Plant with Greengaged

Greengaged Visits Powerday Waste Recycling Plant photo

Photo by Kate Andrews for Greengaged
Materials Matter is Greengaged's theme at today's London Design Festival. As part of their 7 day hub of events, debates, workshops, exhibitions, seminars and masterclasses focusing on sustainable design, Greengaged took us this morning on a boat trip along the Grand Union Canal to visit the Powerday waste recycling plant in west London. Just having gotten back from an amazing trip, we agree with Sophie Thomas (thomas.matthews), Sarah Johnson ([re]design) and Anne Chick (Sustainable Design Research Centre at Kingston University), the three organisers behind Greengaged, that everybody, especially architects and designers, should visit at least once a recycling plant to get a real feeling (or rather smell) for our waste issues. Read on for a full report about the trip and what we learnt from it.
Greengaged electric barge trip to Powerday recycling plant photo

Photo by Kate Andrews for Greengaged

The electric (which stands for non-polluting and silent) barge Beauchamp left Little Venice, near Paddington, this morning at 9.30 with some 25 curious industrial designers, academics, design writers and artists on board. Also on board was Rob Holdway from Giraffe Innovation and presenter of Channel 4's reality TV show Dumped. He started of by telling us that there is big money to be made for companies who turn more efficient and take responsibility, the Powerday waste recycling plant being only one example. Rob believes designers have to start creating for a one planet economy, and they can do so locally. Just like the reality show Dumped proved, we don't have to go to the Amazon to have a real impact on climate change, but we can make a big difference from home. On the barge, everyone debated about ways of recycling, consumer behaviour and existing solutions when ironically, a plastic bag caught the propeller of the barge and we had to stop. Quite a common problem, skipper Ian told us and luckily had in fixed within minutes.

As the boat continued sliding silently along the Grand Union Canal we learnt from Rob that the average dog in the UK has a bigger ecological footprint than the average African person, and that we (people in the UK) are very good at producing waste, but poor at recovering the value of it. Rob, who referred to TreeHugger as his source for green stats (although he is a bit sceptical as to whether we always get our facts right?!) reminded us that 50% of construction waste is salvageable and reusable, and 45% is recyclable.

To show us how construction waste is reused and recycled, we got shown around the Powerday recycling plant, which, after 12 years of planning and 12 million pounds spent, launched their new recycling facility 3 months ago. It is the only one in London with road, rail and river access which enables them to use public transport to get the material to and from site. Eliminating the use of waste lorries by using 100-year-old barges, the environmental impact is drastically reduced.

Powerday waste recycling plant in London photo

Photo by Kate Andrews for Greengaged

All the roofs have rain water collectors and the water is used to sprinkle the site so the dust doesn't become a problem. As we walked on through the muddy grounds (some in high heels- we were in London after all) and the odd smelling massive halls along impressive mountains of rubbish, Chris and John from Powerday explained us how it works. The construction waste is basically smashed up; wood, plastic and metal are taken out to be recycled, and the rest is being reused for new constructions.

Different waste has different values but Chris told us that recycled concrete is as good as new rubble, just cheaper. The plant could deal with 1,6 million tonnes of construction waste a year, and is currently looking for more providers. Of the construction waste coming into the plant, 70% of it is recovered into different uses, 25% is used in landfills for restoration (to cover the top layer for example) and 5% goes straight to landfill.

Chris believes that architects and designers can make a big difference with their designs. "Make is square", he says, as most of the timber waste is just off-cuts. He also believes all soft drink manufacturers should use the same type of plastic, PET for example, and every architect and designer should at least once visit a recycling plant. Powerday waste recycling plant welcomes students and professionals to visit their site (previous booking necessary). So after an unforgettable morning at the recycling plant we glided back to Paddington on the electric barge, ready for more of London Design Festival. Via ::London Design Festival ::Greengaged

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