Alfred toured Shaftesbury’s Household Recycling Centre. We heard how Dorset’s waste differs from other areas and how some locals visit regularly to hunt for bargains.
“I’m probably a self-confessed waste geek,” joked Ian Manley. The Contract Team Leader for Dorset Council had put on an orange high visibility jacket to lead me around the rather small and very busy facility on the Wincombe Business Park. “There is a lot to it and more than meets the eye. It’s more involved than simply your bin being collected every week or you dropping things into a skip at your local recycling centre,” said Ian.
The site’s name, Household Recycling Centre, is important. One of Ian’s colleagues, Jamie, stressed the distinction between this and an old-fashioned tip. They are trying to repurpose what people throw out.
The facility is open between 10am and 4pm, seven days-a-week. And locals use it. “Last year we installed a traffic counter, an induction loop that runs across the entrance to the site. It said that 140,000 visitors came during the year. It’s a large number and around 5,000 tonnes of material was delivered. The scale of the site means it’s really busy. We have a quick turnaround and lots of traffic to handle throughout the year,” Ian said.
As we spoke, residents were driving in and emptying the contents of their car boots, carrying unwanted items up the steps to then drop waste down into one of the green containers lining one side of the site. Each skip was labelled with the type of material it was intended for.
Across the yard, Ian’s colleagues were preparing to pull the site’s metal doorway shut. Seconds later, what looked like an orange, squat mechanical digger swung across the forecourt. Public access had been suspended so the crew could use the compactor safely.
“We get up to two-thirds more material going into any single container with compaction. It is an essential part of keeping the site running and open as much as possible.” It’s basically the equivalent of standing on your home wastepaper basket trying to cram more paper inside before you have to empty it. Customers were locked out for just a few minutes. “I think that was quite a swift compaction. I guess there was just one bin that needed compacting and people can start coming back in.”
I had assumed that the workload of Ian’s team would be huge before and after the Christmas break, but it seems that July and August are their peak periods. “High summer, when people are in their gardens – the single greatest waste item we have through the site is garden waste or green waste,” said Ian.
Waste and recycling have evolved in recent decades. Sometimes global factors, such as increasing prices for materials, can influence processes. When we spoke, Ian was waiting to see whether policies previously advocated by Michael Gove would carry over or be expanded with the new government. Our town’s waste facility has changed too in recent years. It has moved.
“Previously in Shaftesbury, this operation was located at the Longmead depot and there were five containers and hardly any separation of waste,” explained Ian. “Within ten to fifteen years, separation has become essential within the waste industry, mainly driven by things like the landfill tax. It’s more economically and environmentally beneficial to separate the waste out. We separate thirty or forty different types of waste in any of these sites, right through from energy-saving lightbulbs to the main bulk of material which is wood and garden waste.”
Ian has noticed a change of the make-up of material dropped off. “In the last couple of years, the amount of garden waste produced has fallen slightly and that might be linked to the curb-side service we offer.”
In front of the row of skips on the site, a big red bin was marked ‘all printer cartridges’. “It’s a relatively new thing that’s come on the back of a Dorset family who have collected printer cartridges from around the county for many years. They decided that it wasn’t for them to do anymore and we’ve worked with them to introduce that at recycling centres,” said Ian. The empty cartridges sometimes go back to manufacturers and some of them are broken down. “There are metal components and valuable plastics in some of them. Something like that would likely need further sorting beyond this site,” he added.
I was curious about what happens to the recycling which locals put in bins outside their Shaftesbury homes for collection. It travels a long way. “Your green-lidded bin material is bulked up and taken to Blandford. It is then taken to North Wales to be sorted and most of it then goes on to be recycled in the UK. The main reason it goes to North Wales is that Dorset has a lot of newsprint in its recycling mix. We have a lot more than other areas of the country.”
Ian says that our county’s recycling stands out as different from other districts. “There are still a lot of newspaper readers compared to other areas and it takes around one-third of everybody’s recycling bin. In North Wales, the facility that recycles it puts it straight into a newsprint paper mill. It comes back within a couple of weeks as quality newsprint within the UK. It seems strange to be taking it up there but it’s a good news story in terms of supporting the domestic industry and domestic printers,” said Ian.
He doesn’t know which particular newspaper is most frequently found in recycled material. “It would probably be the broadsheets because they would take up more space. It is generally the larger papers that the company are interested in, because of the quality of the fibres and the recyclability. We get a deal because we have a larger proportion of newsprint to other areas, perhaps because of the demographic. We’ve seen cardboard grow with the online economy where things are dispatched and posted but we still have a large amount of newsprint.”
We are all aware of campaigns to encourage us to reduce the single-use plastic containers in our shopping. Plastic-free Shaftesbury is leading the campaign for our town to achieve plastic-free status. Ian has not noticed a significant drop in disposed-of single-use plastic materials, as yet. “They make up a relatively small fraction by weight of our material. We are seeing people being more conscientious about the type of plastic they are using but that hasn’t necessarily correlated directly at this point in time. I welcome the focus on that. Reusable containers are much better for the environment and I’d encourage people to look at that wherever possible. Get refills,” he advised.
Shaftesbury’s population has increased from 7,300 people in 2011 to an estimated 9,200 residents this year. That means more waste could be heading for the Wincombe site. But in recent years, online trading of second-hand goods on Facebook Marketplace or eBay has become more popular. I asked Ian whether reselling unwanted items, which would previously have been thrown away, reduces the burden on the facility.
“The site, you probably can argue, has outgrown itself in terms of the local population, not only in Shaftesbury but further afield in Gillingham and the surrounding areas. The eBay thing is great. It’s reuse that doesn’t have to happen here. The mindset of how people approach waste, which they see more as a resource rather than something to chuck in the bin, is fantastic,” he said.
If the staff at the centre find good quality items such as furniture or books, these are put up for sale in the reuse zone. There is a chance to bag a bargain, with a maximum charge of £10 per item. When I visited, a copper salmon mould and a gilt-framed picture of what looked like Melbury Hill was on offer.
“Within the last twelve to eighteen months, we’ve invested in small shelters to keep materials dry so they last much longer. Previously this was a noncovered area. It’s very popular. Lots of people come to see what is here,” said Ian, adding, “The materials on the site become the property of the contractor. They retain the funds and that links to the operational cost that the council incurs for operating the facility. The vast majority of stuff is made available for people to decide whether they want to buy it or not and usually for very low prices.”
Ian’s colleague Jamie says around 50% of Re-use Centre visitors are regulars. He enjoys the rapport with them and considers them customers as if this was a shop. Older residents are particularly keen on rummaging. Jamie explained that two women used to visit the Wareham facility each lunchtime and take a flask for a cuppa. Here in Shaftesbury, a sign advises of ten minutes maximum viewing time.
“You can potentially create the wrong kind of atmosphere if lots of people are hanging around purely to look at reuse and approaching people out of the back of their cars. The site is limited in space and an additional car sat here for thirty minutes could be used for somebody bringing in material,” Ian explained.
Occasionally customers deliver items that create a problem for the team. “The biggest headache is the occasional munitions and explosives which get dropped off.” Ian says it usually happens each year. “The site is closed, and the bomb disposal people are called in. The closest is based in Portsmouth. We’ve had flares, shells and other ordinance that people don’t feel is a risk but when an operative finds that they have to treat it as if it’s the worst-case and close the site.”
We were chatting less than one mile away from the Wiltshire border. Dorset ratepayers fund this facility but even so, domestic customers are not asked to show their address. Ian says cross-border activity works two ways and it all balances out. “We don’t have a Dorset Council policy across borders. Other surrounding councils do. I’ve always been of the mindset that its managing waste in the right place and if somebody is approximate to a place then it’s okay for them to use it. We know we have residents in Beaminster and Sherborne who go into Crewkerne in Somerset and equally in Devon. It’s a give-and-take approach,” he said. So, if you’re travelling to the site from Semley, The Donheads or East Knoyle, you’re not going to face a challenge.
I asked Ian how he predicts this facility could change by the year 2030. He would like the public isolated from operations so there wouldn’t be the need to suspend access during compacting. “I hope we would have a greater amount of separation. If money exists there are things we could do so people didn’t have to go up steps to put waste into containers. At some of our modern sites, people drive to the height of the container and unload against a small wall. It’s much better from a variety of users,” he said.
And for the immediate future, next time you visit the facility at Wincombe, Ian would appreciate it if you were prepared. “Sort your material before you come. That makes it much easier for you to identify which container you need to put the material into. You can turn around quickly and particularly with sites like Shaftesbury, where space is at a premium, people can come in, take the materials off and get out quickly.”