The EARTH & FAITH Group made an April visit to the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility near Bicester. The industrial site is huge, having been built on a discontinued landfill dump. The purpose at Ardley is to use non-recyclable waste to create energy and road-making materials; almost everything is computer-controlled and depends on the interdisciplinary skills of environmental scientists. So, wearing goggles, hardhats and gloves, it was good to see in a vast hall of pipes, walkways, noise, conveyor belts and fiery furnaces glimpsed through portholes, how our fortnightly black bin and pink bag collections are being put to such good use.
Particularly striking was the sight of the life-size “Megalawattosaurus” who not-too benignly dominates the Visitor Centre Reception. Made most amusingly out of rubbish of all kinds – carpets, vinyl records, sports shoes, an old telephone, cooking pots, garden tools, umbrellas and much more – “Meg” offers a convenient cautionary tale. “Meg” is not just a handy illustration: Ardley is itself the site where dinosaur tracks were first found – the ‘walk way’ is carefully preserved. Just as dinosaurs became extinct because, wholly or in part, their climate changed so as to make them no longer viable, so – the lesson goes – if we continue with our environmental despoliation, we will suffer the same fate.
The tour included seeing the vast dumping hall where all our non-recycled material goes: it is stirred, hoisted into furnaces, with gasses so controlled that nothing harmful escapes – even the gasses being recycled. At the end, most of the effort goes to contributing directly to the National Grid, generating enough power for a town of 38,000 households. Most of the solid residue that remains is turned into the pre-asphalt layer for major road resurfacing.
The message was clear: reduce dependence on non-recyclable materials; increase re-use; replace and throw out less; increase still further our recycling level; reduce recovery rates (‘recovery’ is what they do at Ardley); and reduce any landfill towards zero. We were congratulated for being from the best area in the best county for recycling, but our current levels of 61% recycling, we were told, needs to be over 80%. Looked at from that perspective, “Meg” seemed something more of a challenge. There are energy recovery sites like Ardley across the country but it is our choices, our behaviour, linked to new environmental safeguarding technologies, that will make the difference.
Ardley is a reason to do more, not less. For more information and to book a visit, Google Ardley ERF