June Eco Corner

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Waste

A young minister once said to me (I was about the same age at the time) that after two years in active charge of a congregation he felt as if he had exhausted the whole of truth! I was beginning to feel much the same way about the environment after about seven years of writing about it when a BBC/Open University programme came to the rescue. It was about Byker and waste.

Waste we know of, but where is Byker? I knew it well because it was on the bus route into Newcastle from Wallsend-on-Tyne where I lived and worked. Indistinguishable from most of the other towns along the Tyne, it housed the families who worked in the shipyards and engine works which supplied the world with ships.

No more. The shipyards and factories have gone, leaving derelict areas from which the buildings have been cleared. In the midst of this is a modern waste processing plant which can deal with everything from garden rubbish to waste from the food industry, packaging, paper, plastics, electrical goods and even cars. The basic function of the plant is to separate out the various types of waste and send it on to where it can be re-fashioned into something new.

A quarter of the total collected from households and supermarkets by the bin men is discarded food. Fortunately it can be turned into useful compost in an aneroid digester (AD) at the same time producing methane gas, which is also pumped out of the ground to fuel our cookers and boilers every day. Metals can be separated (if that has not already been done by the householder) melted down and re-used.

Legendary figures such as George Stephenson, I K Brunel and Henry Ford didn't have to worry about the supply of coal and oil which was needed to build and run their machinery. Rising demand world-wide and the exhaustion of easily extracted supplies has changed the outlook. This new, more advanced plant ('Vorsprung durch Technik' as they say in Germany) might become the pattern for the future and at the same time regenerate some forgotten areas such as Byker.

Bob Weighton