Community R4C - the Resource Recovery, Recycling & Refining Centre

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.
Tricia

Posted by Tom Jarman:

On 29th April, I was very pleased to be part of the TALKING RUBBISH seminar which took place at the University of Gloucestershire campus in Cheltenham and was attended by about 150 people. Other speakers included Mike Brown of environmental consultancy Eunomia and Simon Kenton of community motivators, Resource Futures. However, the star of the show was the distinguished environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, CBE, who chaired the event. In his opening remarks, Jonathon shared his eight principles for how decisions should be made regarding resource management if we are to have a sustainable future. With Jonathon’s consent, we have provided the transcript of his insightful speech below.

 

Welcome. Brilliant to see so many people here this afternoon. I think you are going to get some fairly diverse thinking in our deliberations today. I certainly hope so because that’s the nature of the event here and as you can see we are going to be looking at waste and the circular economy.

Conscious as we have to be that the back drop to this is still about a very live and big waste disposal proposal in our midst, namely  the Javelin Park incinerator – which is still very live and is bound to inform a lot of the contributions that we get this afternoon – what we hope is that people won’t be completely fixed on that story and that we can have a wider set of reflections around different models of managing resources in the kind of economy that awaits us.

What you are going to hear from all of our speakers is a common view that we need to look forward at least for another 20-30 years to get any sense at all about the degree to which we are making good decisions today.

That’s really the issue that we are going to be trying to tease out. I am sure you are all very familiar with the Javelin Park proposal. You know where it is now: if things continue down the path that they are on at the moment the construction is due to start in July this year. There are a number of steps that still have to be gone through before then, but that is essentially the issue right now and the facts are well understood.

A lot of people still feel very unhappy about that, and no doubt we’ll hear some voices to that effect this afternoon. But our job for you to start with is to open up the wider context about what good planning, good models of development look like in this whole area of integrated resource management. I am trying to move people as much as possible away from the use of the word ‘waste’ because we do really have to get used to thinking much more about integrated resource management in which the word ‘waste’ gradually diminishes away so that it falls out of our lexicon completely at some stage in the not too distance future.

So I thought what I might usefully do in my opening comments is to suggest for you eight principles that it would be really helpful for decision makers to abide by were they seriously intent on making good decisions around resource management within a fully-fledged integrated sustainable development context. Because that’s essentially the essence of what we ask of our decision makers now: not to make decisions without proper concern and attention to a longer period of time during which as we know our economy must inevitably become more sustainable than it is today  -otherwise it is a very difficult prospect for the future of human kind in general.

So what are those eight principles?

#1 Transparency

Firstly, good decision-making has to be transparent. It is extremely difficult to command the respect of citizens today where the processes by which any decision is arrived at are obscured by commercial confidentiality or other reasons to keep things secret.

As you know with the [Javelin Park] proposal this has been vexatious from day one. We have not had access to the data that we should had have as people in this part of the world – that has been impossible to get hold of. There is a Freedom of Information process now fully still in play, the Information Commissioner will be hearing that at the end of this month. But good decision making requires transparency and the lack of that in this particular development has been massively problematic. I remember when we had an event three years ago, two/three years ago, that lack of transparency was a very big issue that people were intent on and I have to say that this is one of the most egregiously un-transparent processes I have come across in a very long time.

#2 Value for money

Secondly, of course, when we are talking about integrated sustainable development we are thinking about environment society and the economy so we have to be able to guarantee value for money for people over a period of time and in this case over the life time of the particular asset that we are talking about here. The same applies to alternative assets that could be brought forward as a different model to what we are getting with this mass-burn incinerator. You’ll hear from Tom and from others in the talks that they are going to give that you might want to question whether or not we’ve actually got value for money in the Javelin Park proposal , but it will be up for you to judge that.

# 3 Community engagement

Thirdly, coming back to sustainable development it requires a very strong level of community engagement. One of the things we have learnt, often quite painfully, over the last 20-30 years is that to make long term projects of this kind work it is really important to have the community engaged at every step along the way. That has not been possible with this project. You are going to hear  more about good community engagement from examples elsewhere, particularly in Oxfordshire.

#4 Efficiency in resource use

Fourthly, just as we need efficiency in terms of the use of financial assets so we need efficiency in terms of material assets – efficiency in resource use. Now for me one of the things that always bugged me most about the Javelin Park proposal right from day one, thinking of it thermodynamically, was that there is no intention to use the heat that will be generated in the process of producing the electricity. Honestly! Today! This is almost insane, it just beggars belief that a combination of responsible local elected representatives of this community and representatives of an apparently responsible private sector company, can so irresponsibly refuse to allow a more efficient process of that kind to move forward. That is one of the things that still completely bugs me. So you may want to return to that and I hope that Mike from Eunomia will give us a little bit of glimpse into that whole notion of waste to energy, energy from waste plants and what that looks like thermodynamically. If I’ve got the figure right this plant will operate at a total thermal efficiency of around 22%. I don’t think you should really ever get planning permission for something like that but anyway….

#5 Avoid Infrastructure lock-in

Fifth, and this is important, this is getting more into the complicated stuff around sustainable decision making and infrastructure management. These days it becomes increasingly important to avoid what planners describe as ‘infrastructure lock-in’: a series of decisions which once taken cannot then be undone, however bad those decisions might look at some point in the future.

This project obviously has a very high element of infrastructure and financial lock-in to it. It will essentially dictate part of the way in which resources are managed in this part of the world for at least 25 years and probably longer.

Energy from waste plants are clunky plants today – even now this is a clunky technology. This is not smart technology. One can legitimately describe it as really quite basic technology, possibly even stupid technology. Because what we know is that the speed of technology change in this whole area is going to be dramatic. We will see incredible changes around the technology brought forward to help manage resources more efficiently than we do so today.

As I was thinking about this today, I couldn’t help but make a comparison in my mind between this plant and Hinckley Point. Now I know you might find that a ridiculous comparison but none the less I’m looking at this absurd decision to build two new nuclear power stations at Hinckley Point using a technology that is already completely redundant in many respects and leaving a legacy for much much longer than this proposal will leave one – but it is very similar.

#6 Towards a circular economy

Sixth principle, we need our decisions in this whole area of resource management to take us towards what is called the circular economy. You are going to hear a lot more about that today – how to move us away from very simplistic, very crude linear routes to creating economic value. At the moment much of our economy is based on this extremely linear process where you take raw materials from the earth or from our economy, you fashion them into the products that we need in society and once you’ve done that they are disposed of and they go into a waste stream. There is a huge surge of interest now around this notion of the circular economy. It has been very live for the last four years: it’s a big thing in the EU, it’s going to become a critical part of fashioning genuinely sustainable economic models for the future.

#7 Future-proofing

Seventh, we need all these decisions to be future proof, we need them to allow for the kind of changes that are going to happen at some point in the future. That means they have to be proof against the inevitability of changes, some of the changes that will happen through the EU, I am making an assumption here, as you can tell, that on June 23rd people will be as sensible as we need them to be, but through the EU we know that we will see higher targets for recycling and resource use. We have to make decisions that are proof against changes of that kind. What is the point of making big decisions that cannot possibly factor in the inevitability of that process.

#8 An ultra-low carbon future

Lastly, we have to make decisions today that take us towards an ultra-low carbon economy. I’m finding a lot these days that people haven’t really caught up with the implications of the Paris Agreement. The agreement that was signed back in Paris in December was then formally signed on in New York by 60 of the world’s countries that originally signed up – and will hopefully be ratified over the course of the next year by all of those countries. People haven’t really got their heads around the true import of the Paris Agreement which has asked governments now to accept that our current thresholds for what we hoped would be a stable climate, namely no more than a 2 degree centigrade average temperature increase by the end of this century, is not good enough.

The scientists are saying that will not give us a high enough probability of a stable climate. So the science now tells us we are going to have to think about a stable climate within a temperature threshold of no more than 1.5 degrees centigrade average temperature increase by the end of this century. That may not sound like much, but 2 degrees centigrade coming down to 1.5 degrees centigrade  is an absolutely gobsmackingly massive change in the speed with which we are going to have to introduce new processes, new technologies, new ways of creating wealth. It is an imperative that we cannot ignore.

So to bring forward very carbon-intensive technological routes to managing our resources today, just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever – because we will be on a very dramatic decarbonisation trajectory from this point on. So if you think about Javelin Park with an asset life time of 25 may be 30 years, do those who will be investing in it think that it will still be doing something useful for us in the year 2050?

I just want to remind you all that world leaders now are all signed up to something called the ‘Zero Net Carbon Economy by 2050’. So what are we going to do when we bring forward a new asset which demonstrably is not heading towards net zero emissions and which will still be in our midst in 10, 20, 30 years’ time. This is the height of irresponsibility – it is actually imposing upon people a carbon legacy which will cost us dear to deal with for a very long time. So we cannot put that to one side. We don’t know what the emissions will be from Javelin Park  – 26,000 tonnes per annum, whatever it might be – but it’s a significant volume of additional greenhouse gas emission.

So those are the eight principles just to help think about ways in which good decision-making should happen in this space. Without that we are entitled to question our politicians and indeed our wealth creators, and ask them to do a better job than is currently being done.

Thanks to all of you who have already invested. We’re off to a fantastic start. Read what the Stroud News & Journal has to say here

The Stroud News & Journal has just published an article about the share offer launch. Click here to read article.

… and so has Stroud Life. Read their article here.

 

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