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.