Take a look inside Amey’s Waterbeach waste plant where 400,000 tonnes of waste comes from across Cambridgeshire
PUBLISHED: 10:26 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:34 10 December 2019
More than 400,000 tonnes of waste from across Cambridgeshire is sorted, recycled and disposed of at the Amey plant in Waterbeach every year – but in the next 15 years there will be a shortage of landfill space.
We were invited to the site - just three miles north from Cambridge - to see what happens to our rubbish after it's taken off in the bin truck.
From the minute we step out the car we are greeted with the pungent aroma of waste; workers dressed in hi-viz safety clothing are keen to show us the way.
We're guided into a mini bus for our first stop - the place where rubbish is treated.
Any materials that are recycled that may have been missed are stripped to leave organic waste that has a high energy content and can be composted.
Just around the corner from this is where all green garden waste is processed.
There is a fresher smell of grass and leaves as diggers transport it from one section of the site to another.
It takes about seven weeks in total to shred it and compress it into huge piles of warm compost that line the outside at about 35c.
"We're just accelerating a natural process and putting compost back on to land," says our driver, Steve Graves, who has worked at Amey for 17 years.
Then we're moved on to the bulk of the waste at the landfill.
Our bus rumbles across layers upon layers of food, packets, plastics and paper waste that has gradually built up since the site was first used as a landfill in the 1970s.
"Historic waste has been here since the war," Steve tells us.
"This is an ordered process but this area will be covered by next June and there is only 10 years of landfill left.
"We think it will be full in the 10 to 15 years."
It's a fascinating sight to see buried Kit Kat and Walkers Crisp packets appearing through rubble - but one that is also quite alarming.
Contaminated plastics are hard to recycle when they are just dumped in a normal black bag at home.
It can take several years for them to decompose and recover their energy - leaving a hefty footprint on the environment.
Landfill sites across the country are filling up and there is a clear shortage of waste treatment infrastructure in the UK.
Our last stop at the plant is at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where all the recyclables come.
Machines - along with 15 people picking - identify different types of plastic.
It's a quick turnaround time that sees 300 tonnes of rubbish stripped all day long, six days a week.
We're told there is a huge spike in materials in January as Christmas rubbish is disposed of.
But local initiatives are also seeing pop bottles turned into chocolate brownie boxes in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdon.
Out of the one thousand bales of compressed plastics on the site, we are shown stacks of aluminium beer and pop cans that will eventually be turned back into a can.
Dozens of cans line the side of the centre that look like a modern art display.
There is also an educational centre where schoolchildren visit on a weekly basis to find out more about the impact on the environment waste has.
Paco Hevia, managing director of Amey, said. "We try and reduce the volume of the waste and try and mitigate the impact of that on the environment.
"It is important for us to move away from landfill as its the worst possible use for waste, so we are trying to eliminate the use of that and recover the energy.
"It is really important for us to reduce our carbon footprint and the environmental impact of the waste generated by the county.
"We also open our doors to schools and community groups to educate them as best as we can about what the future may hold if waste is not handled correctly."