Family on a Bike goes Eco-Touring
 
 
A Family on a Bike Tour 2006
 

Down the waste end

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   Down the waste end
  Date:         5th April 2006
Place:
     Penrith, Cumbria


After an hour spent dodging fume-belching juggernauts on Penrith industrial estates we finally found the place. We rested our bikes and trailers against giant cubes of crushed tin cans stacked four metres high and surveyed the scene. After a week in the Eden Valley, this was no Garden of Eden. The ground was awash with litter: tin lids, bottle tops, foil and squashed cartons. In the yard a forklift truck was loading old plastic drainpipes, cladding and conduit onto an articulated trailer. In the warehouse a bright blue baling machine sat waiting to consume a truckload of assorted plastic waste.

As we took it all in, the sun appeared from behind a row of grey wheelie bins, a man with a smile as bright as his day-glo suit. He made his way over to us, shouting to make himself heard over the pallets of ragged plastic flapping in the wind.
"You must be the mad family on a bike. I'm Ian Collingwood, General Manager."
"Will these be alright here?" I asked, pointing to the bikes.
"Of course," he said cheerfully, "I promise we won't recycle them."


Is it safe to leave our bikes here?

There's more to eco-touring than being at one with nature and we chose the west end of Penrith for the waste end of our tour, a visit to Eden Community Recycling, a not for profit community organisation committed to helping the people of Eden increase the amount they recycle and reduce the amount they send to landfill.

"We started as a charity in 1981, on the forecourt of Penrith fire station," explained Ian as he showed us around. "Back then we collected papers to raise money for good causes, but now we're a limited company recycling paper, glass, cans, plastic and more. We've our own depot and a contract with Eden District Council."

Since its humble beginnings, this Eden project has been led by Colin Nineham, a former fireman who started the paper collecting and ended up Managing Director of an entreprenerial recycling business. But it's no ordinary business, it's a not-for-profit social enterprise, successfully increasing recycling volumes, creating local employment opportunities, offering work experience to adults with special learning needs and making financial contributions to local schools and community groups. It's a rare trick to be able to create such treasure from rubbish, a trick our boys seemed keen to learn about as they scrabbled excitedly around the yard.

We paused beside bags of squashed foil take-away cartons and yogurt tops while Ian explained a little more about the operation. "We collect paper, cans, plastics and foil from twenty four recycling banks around Eden. Paper goes to our mill at Little Salkeld, the rest comes here for baling. We encourage people to recycle as much as they can and do a minimum of sorting to keep costs down. You've got to make it easy to make it work."


Ian Collingwood, General Manager, Eden Community Recycling

And when it comes to plastics recycling it's an approach that's been leading the way in Cumbria and the North West. Recycling plastic is a tricky business; the raw material is lightweight, bulky and costly to transport, there's lots of different types that need sorting to get good prices, and market rates make it difficult to recycle profitably. But it's a little easier for an enterprise with a strong community focus and no need to turn a profit. "You see we've always been led by general public, whatever they want we try and do it for them," explained Ian. "They wanted plastic recycling so we gave them plastic. Then they wanted aluminium so we gave them foil recycling. It's not easy or cheap, particularly in a sparsely populated area like Eden but we worked hard at it with the communities, with the processors and with the council and we've found a way to make it work. "

Ian's enthusiasm for their plastic scheme was infectious, "We try and recycle all kinds of plastic packaging, not just bottles, and get it all reprocessed in the UK. That trailer there is off to Leicester tonight where carrier bags get made back into black bin bags and bottles get milled down into granules then sold on to make drain pipes, insulation and even clothes." Since the plastic scheme started in 2003, they've recycled over 350 tonnes of the stuff including over 10 million bottles and 13 millions carrier bags, saving the council landfill and making money for good causes as well.

Working with the community is part of the ethos here, trying to put sustainability before profitability and provide the recycling services people want rather than just those which are financially attractive. Of course it's an approach which is easier when the profit motive is clearly out of the equation but one we could surely do with a little more of around the county. Perhaps the looming landfill crisis and rising landfill taxes will help shift the economics sufficiently for all councils to offer community based recycling facilities for more than just paper, cans and glass. According to Ian, the demand is there even if the profit isn't and that in itself is encouraging news.

And as if to demonstrate the point a van pulled into the depot with a trailer full of bike boxes. "That's the local cycle shop dropping off some support," said Ian, adjusting his earpiece and checking his mobile then excusing himself to take an incoming call. And while he attended to the business of recycling the boys continued their treasure hunt and Kirstie and I marveled at the colourful crushed bales of tin, aluminium, plastic and foil and the determination of people like Ian who are committed to making a difference in the less than savoury but ever so important world of waste.

As Ian returned, the guy from the cycle shop finished unloading his boxes into the cardboard recycling cage and gave us a wave as he headed back to town, perhaps wondering what kind of cycle tourists would visit a recycling depot. "So, what's next Ian?" I asked as we prepared to leave.

"Well, we were getting a lot of requests about those beverage cartons, so we're doing a pilot to see if we can find a market for them." It's another first for Cumbria and another example of how this small outfit is responding to community demands. "We've found a mill in Fife that's can separate out the cardboard, plastic and foil in juice, custard and milk cartons. Apparently they can turn them into paper bags, tissue and Christmas wrapping. It's amazing what people can do these days. "

Indeed it is. As we left Ian and the Eden Recycling Centre, the boys seemed particularly pleased with the visit and the recycled rocket they had made out of an old fork thrust into a plastic bottle complete with squashed tin wings and a foil nose. They clearly got the message about the value of recycling.

 
Rubbish is beautiful


 

 
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