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Bow Midland thrives on demolition waste


Bow Midland Waste Recycling in Stratford, east London, takes in waste material from construction sites across the capital and recycles as much as 75 per cent of it. Paul Thompson finds out how

DAVID GREEN is an early bird. While the rest of us are still in the land of nod, Mr Green is negotiating traffic along the A20 from his home in Orpington, Kent.

By 6 am, he arrives at the Bow Midland recycling depot in east London, ready for a day of sorting through construction waste from some of the largest sites in the country.

Such an early start is difficult for even the most hardened of construction workers but as a former accountant, the early start is surely a shock to the system.

'I don't really notice it, ' he says. 'I just enjoy having a laugh and a joke with the customers as they come in.'

While all businesses are motivated by the need to make a profit, Mr Green's company is also driven by sustainability. He insists that, contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive.

'People don't realise just how much waste can be recycled, ' he says.

By the time Mr Green has got to work, there are a few other early birds waiting for him to open up.

The Bow Midland waste handling facility opened for business in October 2001 following a £4 million investment in the site. Almost half of this sum came from a £1.7 million freight facilities grant provided by the government to promote the transportation of freight by rail.

The company's success in its first nine months has been phenomenal. Mr Green anticipates Bow Midland will handle over 300,000 tonnes of construction waste in its first 12 months, making it within its first year of operation the largest in east London. He estimates this will mean 20,000 fewer lorry movements on the capital's road network - and he wants to take on more.

'There are nine other waste transfer stations in the area. Instead of these using articulated lorries to take excess material to landfill sites, we are looking at the possibility of taking in their waste to maximise recycling, ' he says.

'Local skip companies will stockpile waste at their depots overnight to avoid driving through London during the rush hour. Then they will bring it all to us first thing in the morning before going on their rounds.'

From the moment Mr Green opens up in the morning, the weighbridge at Bow Midland's Pudding Mill Lane depot is tested by a stream of vans and skips stacked with material no one else wants or can be bothered to deal with.

The pace does not really let up until mid-morning, when Mr Green finally has a few minutes to sit down, pet his beloved Rottweiler bitch Kizzy and work out how much money has been taken.

'The weighbridge is going mad until 10 am. We will be turning round a load every 20 seconds, ' says Mr Green.

Taking loads directly from the weighbridge is one thing but ensuring those deliveries do not include materials unfit for landfill or recycling is another.

'Sometimes contractors try to sneak in 'special' wastes such as tyres, asbestos and batteries, but if we suspect anything we will spread the load out and inspect it, ' he says Gaining a reputation as having a strict inspection system is paying dividends and Mr Green admits that fewer volumes of such materials are being dumped. But the main reason he will not take old tyres is cost.

'We have looked into the possibility of recycling tyres, but it is just too expensive at the moment, ' he says. 'We are not here to lose money.'

In the sorting shed behind the weighbridge and office his team of labourers pore over the loads of waste brought in for recycling.

During busy periods, as many as 12 labourers will sort through the waste, grading it into piles of wood, plastics, metals, concrete and others.

'Manual labour is more efficient during the initial sorting stage, ' says Mr Green, but new plant and machinery is brought in to help process the separate wastes into useful products.

'The sorting we do is all about volume. Only 25 per cent of what comes into this facility is sent to landfill and much of that is hardcore to make up site roads.'

Leftover material that cannot be recycled economically is then sent off to landfill by train from the new railhead on the site.

Mr Green is trying to get his stockpile of wood chippings transported to a chipboard manufacturer in the same way but is experiencing problems.

'The rail industry is not fantastically set up for new business. You have to work through the red tape and keep pushing, ' he says.

In some ways, the business is a victim of its own success. Less waste is being sent by rail to landfill than was initially thought, purely because of the huge amount being taken out at the depot and recycled.

Mr Green despairs at the huge volumes of recyclable material that is being sent to landfill.

'Landfill sites should reject loads that have products that can be recycled, ' he says.

He believes the landfill tax should be doubled to bring the cost of dumping in line with other European countries.

'It costs about £30 per tonne to get waste into the ground in the UK. In France, that figure is more like £80 per tonne, ' he says.

Every day, Mr Green takes loads that contain perfectly good, unused products such as mineral wool and piping purely because people cannot be bothered to reuse it.

'There is scandalous wastage in the UK construction industry. The easiest decision for a company to take is to just get rid of its excess material. There is a perception that if a product is second-hand it is no good. There is no stigma about buying old houses, so why should there be in using second-hand products?'