Thoughts on incineration after visiting Rabbit Skips

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the facilities of Rabbit Skips in Lancing.

They are an independent local company who service many businesses, particularly construction and events, in the Brighton & Hove area.

I was very interested to know about how they are reducing their environmental impact. I was impressed with the clear passion with which staff did their work and pride in what they had achieved.

Rabbit’s process is a microcosm of what the city council, to an extent, do with residents’ waste.

Waste comes into the site and is sorted. Most of the sorting is done using a variety of electro-mechanical systems and magnets very similar to the Hollingdean Materials Recovery Facility used by the council. The difference being that while the council only put recycling through their system, Rabbit put everything through theirs (other than obviously re-usable large items like doors and girders!)

The sorting is impressive for what it can retrieve from the waste: Soil, wood, metal (even the tiniest screws, springs and nails), plastics, aggregrate and so on. Many of these materials, such as metals, plastics, are sold onto the market for recycling or re-use.

The remaining ‘residue waste’ is broken down into small pieces for use in an incinerator. I’m told it was the UK’s first incinerator using waste to be classified as using biofuel due to the amount of wood-chip and other organic materials that goes in there.

That a relatively small, independent local company managed to get through all the legislative hoops and pull together the financing to build these facilities – which are highly automated – is in itself impressive.

It seemed to my untrained eye that the incinerator has more machinery to clean the exhaust than anything else. Currently, when running both lines, they can generate up to 2MW which is sold as green energy onto the national grid. They would like to sell their heat too, but so far have not found any buyers.

While the majority of waste, when the mix is right, is burnt, they are still left with several tons a day of residue which has to be handled as hazardous waste. They also have a quantity of ash collected by filters which goes into road building – so it’s not a totally zero waste affair.

Let’s be clear, in my view incineration is very much second best to some other waste systems such as digestion technologies and pyrolosis. No process is perfect but in terms of efficiency and emissions they are clearly preferable to incineration. In my view incineration is not much different from landfill, you stick it in the air rather than in the ground, but at least you recover some energy in the process.

It is my goal to see Brighton & Hove using the most efficient, environmentally friendly waste processes possible. Nevertheless firms like Rabbit have a role to play because councils do not handle or process commercial waste. If incineration is to be pursued (and I hope not) it’s certainly better to have smaller, local installations than large mega-sites as for Veolia’s in Newhaven where emissions will be heavily concentrated in one area.

What I can support wholeheartedly is the waste sorting Rabbit are using. We could be using it on the bulk of our waste to push far more of it into the recycling market. The technology is there… but is there the will from the the Tories locally or nationally?

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