Waldringfield Community Composting visit to Great Blakenham.

Waldringfield Community Composting has funding for a couple of visits to the Materials Recycling Facility at Great Blakenham. The first of these took place on Friday 11th July.

Only four of us went, but it was extraordinarily interesting. After a long introduction by the education officer we had an hour’s tour of the plant. The mixed recyclables collected in our blue bins are dumped into an enormous pile and gradually shovelled onto conveyor belts which first deposits them into drums from which the very smallest particles are ejected – bits about the size of milk bottle tops. Back on conveyor belts the stuff passes alongside rows of sorters who extract and send down the relevant chutes card and paper and any unwanted matter. Cans etc are magnetically extracted, and aluminium by an ingenious system which sets up a repellent field so that they are thrown into a further chute. That leaves plastic which is then picked over for remaining extraneous material and finally all the separate elements are crushed and baled. They are sold wherever the price is highest, which might be within Britain, but they might also be exported. We were not given figures for this – though we were for the purity of the bales: only about 3% unwanted materials, so the process is pretty efficient.

Which efficiency we indeed witnessed. The plant is staffed by about 70 Lithuanian workers who come on short contracts. They choose to have only one break in their eight hour day. We all thought the work must be tiring – standing all day, isolated by headphones as the plant is very noisy, unable to move their eyes from the moving conveyor and sorting with extraordinary speed and accuracy. We were assured that they are all paid the minimum wage, that friends and relations come serially to replace them when they leave and that the first tranche of workers were indeed British, but few of them stayed. The two who did now drive machinery.

We found the operation of the plant and its pride in what it does impressive – but were also muted by the sheer amount of waste that our society generates. It was a salutary visit and we hope to arrange another one soon.

Betsy Reid for Waldringfield Community Composting 25th September, 2013

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