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Regeneration game

A riverside recycling plant has made a flying start in tackling the capital's waste. Ian Lawrence reports.

Ashort journey east from the now redundant Millennium Dome in Greenwich is another site constructed using public money at around the turn of the century. Unlike the Dome, however, the experimental construction and demolition waste recycling depot, set up and operated by local construction materials firm Day Group, is attracting visitors by the dozen.

Up and running since March 2003, the plant at Murphy's Wharf has been established to capitalise on one of the UK's richest streams of construction and demolition waste, and to feed recycled materials back into a high-demand construction economy. It works on the basis of local supply and demand.

Glass and rubble is supplemented by primary aggregate shipped up the Thames, on whose south bank the plant sits.

'There's potential to build something similar to this in most major cities, ' says contracts director Adam Day. But he adds a note of caution. 'These are big volumes. You need the volume to achieve necessary economies of scale.'

Yet so far, Day's initial expectations of waste received and reusable products sold to the capital's construction market have been exceeded.

Day Group committed itself to producing 150,000 tons of recycled material from building waste, but is now expecting to hit the 200,000-ton mark.

On the glass side, the initial commitment was for 30,000 tons, but this now looks more likely to reach 50,000 tons as the operation gathers pace.

Clients include Alfred McAlpine, Jackson, May Gurney and Birse.

Six distinct products are made from the waste that comes in.

These include different grades of crushed asphalt and concrete, spoil, demolition hardcore and glass sand.

'Once the product is put onto the market people get used to having green sand as opposed to yellow sand, ' says Day.

'It's said in this country that engineers are very conservative in their approach to new things.

But their whole training is based on assessing risks. They have a responsibility to be economic as well.

'Slowly but surely people get used to it. People come into the business and new projects come about.'

This year the operation turned in a profit, but it is not yet up to full capacity, running at 80% of maximum potential on the construction and demolition waste side and 60% for glass. Space restrictions at the 2.4ha site mean there is little scope for stockpiling products, so clients have to be on hand to take materials almost as soon as they come off the production line. Some of the major contractors place advance orders or take materials as they become available.

Day's major challenge is to build on the success of the site's first 18 months, develop more products and convince more construction and local authority clients of the benefits of the site's output. To do this he must overcome an embedded distrust of recycling.

'The poor standard of recycled materials in previous years created an idea that recycled meant poor quality. That's the perception that we have to change.'

Visitors from as far afield as Hong Kong and Korea have been impressed with the capabilities on show and the advances evident in this country, Day claims.

'I think we've now moved ahead with our recycling, having seen what goes on in the rest of Europe. This works within an economically viable and commercial environment.'

The plant has received a major boost from recycling business and pressure group London Remade, which has worked hard to expand the market for recycled materials.

The organisation contributed £7M towards establishing the plant at Greenwich as part of its drive to divert 250,000t of waste from landfill. Communications manager Chris Crofts says that London Remade also works closely with local authorities in the capital to ensure waste collection is maximised, and holds events to promote end uses.

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