Director’s Blog #1

triciaAfter just a few weeks in post, I can’t contain my excitement about Community R4C and all it stands for. Our aspirations are huge, and our potential to achieve them is growing by the day. What started as a revolt against a proposed incinerator has become an incredible positive force for change. Not only are we demanding the best available environmental solution for our waste, we are creating a community led model for others to replicate. Vive la revolution!

The vast range of skills, dedication and outrageous enthusiasm of everyone I’ve come across explains how we are punching so far above our weight. If successes to date feel small, I can assure you some big ones are just around the corner – with the small ones adding up to make a big difference in the meantime.

There may be an air of despondency out there as the FOI case drags on and yet another press release comes out to convince us the incinerator is a foregone conclusion – Don’t get sucked in! A fence surrounds an industrial site, foundations are being laid – what a great time for decision makers to review what’s the right thing to build there!

There are times when really hard decisions have to be made by public bodies, weighing up cost against health, welfare or environmental performance, particularly tough in times of austerity and devolution – how on earth can more be achieved with less? There are other times when the decision is made easier, such as when a genuine better, more affordable solution becomes available. The gameplan then changes – a choice emerges: to objectively review and potentially embrace the new opportunity if it is serious, or ignore the increasingly loud noise, entrench positions, plough on with the original solution until it’s ‘too late’ to change it – and hope the new thing goes away. Threat or opportunity? What is CR4C?

Zoom out and I see a picture repeated in many places. Waste facilities. Necessary evils. Notoriously unpopular in the surrounding communities. Plagued with planning objections. Battling against campaigners part of the deal. Valid complaints consigned to the ‘nimby’ bucket. Local will overruled by central govt ‘to provide the necessary infrastructure’ to ‘deal with the increasing amount of rubbish’. Loads of money thrown at a bunch of lawyers, and the shadow of the incinerator looms large, seemingly unstoppable…
BUT… enter CR4C, the first example I’ve ever heard of a community actively wanting to build their own waste facility – to the extent that individuals from all walks of life have put their hands in their pockets and donated nearly £100,000 to make it happen! What kind of a nimby does that?

A small group of competent, professional, determined individuals have offered up the blueprint for a viable alternative way of dealing with ‘waste’, with more environmental benefits than any mixed waste processing facility I’ve come across in my 14 years in this industry. Its primary objective: to maximise material and energy extraction from the resources it receives, a stark contrast to the usual commercial approach. The ‘tech’ is modular: can grow – or shrink – to meet the needs of the quantities coming through the doors. It’s flexible: as new technologies emerge or the nature of the incoming waste changes, components can be rejigged, pulled out or new ones put in, to ever better its environmental footprint. It would dearly love to make itself obsolete, as the circular economy takes hold and we finally consign the concept of waste to the proverbial bin!

It can’t be true, the establishment cries, as it continues down its overpriced path to environmental underperformance. It’s a lovely idea, but it’s not real, we can’t risk believing your fairy tales of cheap utopia. We have to use the old ways, they may not be the best but they work. The pollution is known about and monitored. Lawyers say it’s OK. We have to be careful with public money, can’t risk spending less on something that sounds too good to be true…

Good news – It’s not a fairy tale. It CAN achieve what it claims. One would be forgiven for thinking it was actually designed to meet the emerging carbon reduction and anti pollution targets & regulations.

How can I be so bold in my convictions? It’s innovative – but not rocket science. Each piece of the solution has been done before, and is doing it successfully somewhere as I write. It pulls together established techniques in use all over the Western world. To extract as many materials as possible and clean them up to return to a manufacturing process. Cleanse the organics to enable onward use as an extremely efficient, non-toxic bio-fuel.

Why aren’t they being built everywhere instead of incinerators? Because they disrupt the current commercial waste management landscape. The R4C business model is exactly the opposite of the familiar paradigm. R4C will keep the gate fee low to reflect the true cost. The community help the board decide what to do with the profits. And they have made their intentions clear from the start, i.e. reinvest in constantly improving environmental performance of the facility and in community initiatives that support the circular economy. This is not just a social investment, however. It will make a comfortable return relatively quickly, and the entire community-embedded solution is not designed as a one-off but is intended to be shared, to set a precedent for similar projects.

Before my musings finally draw to a close (sorry, had a lot to share!) I have one more rather important thing to say, and that is: Thank you.
Thanks for being part of the community that didn’t just object then carry on doing nothing about the underlying problem. Thanks for supporting local recycling schemes to prove that we can be bothered. Thanks for the ideas and information coming in about local initiatives to further reduce the ‘waste’ in our county. Thanks for buying shares where you could. And thanks for your faith in R4C, we are VERY close to building a processing facility that turns ‘waste’ into a valuable resource with a vital role in the circular economy. What ends up ‘in the bin’ is so much more than a problematic commodity, to trade in for a tiny bit of electricity, a pile of ash, a puff of smoke and a tidy profit.

Hope to meet you at an event soon – January workshop being planned, sign up to our mailing list to receive your invitation.

Written by Adam Lewis


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