A Load of Rubbish – Richard Groome — 25th April 2016

Richard’s talk was any­thing but a load of rub­bish, but that was his chosen title for a present­a­tion which showed us the state of play in the match between the envir­on­ment and the ever rising tide of house­hold waste.

Eur Ing (European Engineer) Richard Groome, BSc Hons, C Eng, FI Chem E, gradu­ated from Nottingham University with a degree in chem­ical engin­eer­ing and has worked for many national and inter­na­tional organ­isa­tions in both the public and private sector. He now runs his own busi­ness as a freel­ance con­sult­ant spe­cial­ising in waste pro­cessing.

A fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, he was a founder member of their Food and Drink Group and was the UK del­eg­ate on the European Federation of Chemical Engineers. He will shortly be installed as Master of the Worshipful Company of Engineers, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.

Richard’s present­a­tion showed us (with a very appro­pri­ate illus­tra­tion of Albert Steptoe and his son Harold) that waste pro­cessing in the UK has gone from noth­ing to hi-tech in just ten years. Some 45 per cent of house­hold waste is now recycled, com­pared with 11 per cent a decade ago.

But we still send 51 per cent of muni­cipal waste to land­fill and, while that figure com­pares favour­ably with Malta’s 95 per cent, we are still lag­ging behind the European aver­age of 40 per cent.

From the cli­mate change point of view, land­fill accounts for three per cent of all meth­ane emis­sions.

Currently, only 12 per cent of UK waste is incin­er­ated to provide heat and power, com­pared with 40 per cent in Germany.

However, we have reduced house­hold food waste by one mil­lion tonnes since 2006.

There have been big advances of the recyc­ling of metals, glass and plastics and, while not all plastics can be recycled (yoghurt car­tons, for example, con­tain poly­styrene which is not recyc­lable), less than five per cent will leave a modern ‘mater­i­als recov­ery centre’ as rub­bish, and that can be used for energy pro­duc­tion.

Cans are one of the suc­cess stor­ies of modern recyc­ling, Richard explained. “Most metals are 100 per cent recyc­lable, and food con­tain­ers are usu­ally back on the shelves within six weeks (of being dis­carded).”

Richard is con­fid­ent that the gap between the UK and the rest of Europe will close, but that we should aim at a zero-waste target. “We are chan­ging waste cul­ture,” he told us, “but ideally, in the future, there should be no land­fill, min­imum incin­er­a­tion and more recyc­lable pack­aging.”

Although his talk was primar­ily on UK waste pro­cessing, Richard — who is also qual­i­fied in local coun­cil admin­is­tra­tion — has wide exper­i­ence in other fields and has been a non-executive dir­ector of the Shropshire Health Authority as well as hold­ing senior pos­i­tions with com­pan­ies such as Express Foods Group, Müller Dairy UK, UK Elliott Group and John Laing.

He was chief exec­ut­ive from 2005 to 2008 of the Manchester, Salford and Trafford NHS LIFT Company, estab­lished to develop health, com­munity and local author­ity facil­it­ies.

Richard was there­fore well qual­i­fied to explain the intric­a­cies of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), under which private con­tract­ors pay for the con­struc­tion costs of build­ings such as hos­pit­als and schools and then rent the fin­ished pro­ject back to the public sector.