After an hour spent dodging fume-belching juggernauts on
Penrith industrial estates we finally found the place. We
rested our bikes and trailers against giant cubes of crushed
tin cans stacked four metres high and surveyed the scene.
After a week in the Eden Valley, this was no Garden of Eden.
The ground was awash with litter: tin lids, bottle tops,
foil and squashed cartons. In the yard a forklift truck
was loading old plastic drainpipes, cladding and conduit
onto an articulated trailer. In the warehouse a bright blue
baling machine sat waiting to consume a truckload of assorted
As we took it all in,
the sun appeared from behind a row of grey wheelie bins,
a man with a smile as bright as his day-glo suit. He made
his way over to us, shouting to make himself heard over
the pallets of ragged plastic flapping in the wind.
"You must be the mad family on a bike. I'm Ian Collingwood,
"Will these be alright here?" I asked, pointing to the bikes.
"Of course," he said cheerfully, "I promise we won't recycle
Is it safe to leave our bikes
There's more to eco-touring than
being at one with nature and we chose the west end of Penrith
for the waste end of our tour, a visit to Eden
Community Recycling, a not for profit community organisation
committed to helping the people of Eden increase the amount
they recycle and reduce the amount they send to landfill.
"We started as a charity in 1981,
on the forecourt of Penrith fire station," explained Ian
as he showed us around. "Back then we collected papers to
raise money for good causes, but now we're a limited company
recycling paper, glass, cans, plastic and more. We've our
own depot and a contract with Eden District Council."
Since its humble beginnings, this
Eden project has been led by Colin Nineham, a former fireman
who started the paper collecting and ended up Managing Director
of an entreprenerial recycling business. But it's no ordinary
business, it's a not-for-profit social enterprise, successfully
increasing recycling volumes, creating local employment
opportunities, offering work experience to adults with special
learning needs and making financial contributions to local
schools and community groups. It's a rare trick to be able
to create such treasure from rubbish, a trick our boys seemed
keen to learn about as they scrabbled excitedly around the
We paused beside bags of squashed
foil take-away cartons and yogurt tops while Ian explained
a little more about the operation. "We collect paper, cans,
plastics and foil from twenty four recycling banks around
Eden. Paper goes to our mill at Little Salkeld, the rest
comes here for baling. We encourage people to recycle as
much as they can and do a minimum of sorting to keep costs
down. You've got to make it easy to make it work."
Ian Collingwood, General Manager,
Eden Community Recycling
And when it comes to plastics recycling
it's an approach that's been leading the way in Cumbria
and the North West. Recycling plastic is a tricky business;
the raw material is lightweight, bulky and costly to transport,
there's lots of different types that need sorting to get
good prices, and market rates make it difficult to recycle
profitably. But it's a little easier for an enterprise with
a strong community focus and no need to turn a profit. "You
see we've always been led by general public, whatever they
want we try and do it for them," explained Ian. "They wanted
plastic recycling so we gave them plastic. Then they wanted
aluminium so we gave them foil recycling. It's not easy
or cheap, particularly in a sparsely populated area like
Eden but we worked hard at it with the communities, with
the processors and with the council and we've found a way
to make it work. "
Ian's enthusiasm for their plastic
scheme was infectious, "We try and recycle all kinds of
plastic packaging, not just bottles, and get it all reprocessed
in the UK. That trailer there is off to Leicester tonight
where carrier bags get made back into black bin bags and
bottles get milled down into granules then sold on to make
drain pipes, insulation and even clothes." Since the plastic
scheme started in 2003, they've recycled over 350 tonnes
of the stuff including over 10 million bottles and 13 millions
carrier bags, saving the council landfill and making money
for good causes as well.
Working with the community is part
of the ethos here, trying to put sustainability before profitability
and provide the recycling services people want rather than
just those which are financially attractive. Of course it's
an approach which is easier when the profit motive is clearly
out of the equation but one we could surely do with a little
more of around the county. Perhaps the looming landfill
crisis and rising landfill taxes will help shift the economics
sufficiently for all councils to offer community based recycling
facilities for more than just paper, cans and glass. According
to Ian, the demand is there even if the profit isn't and
that in itself is encouraging news.
And as if to demonstrate
the point a van pulled into the depot with a trailer full
of bike boxes. "That's the local cycle shop dropping off
some support," said Ian, adjusting his earpiece and checking
his mobile then excusing himself to take an incoming call.
And while he attended to the business of recycling the boys
continued their treasure hunt and Kirstie and I marveled
at the colourful crushed bales of tin, aluminium, plastic
and foil and the determination of people like Ian who are
committed to making a difference in the less than savoury
but ever so important world of waste.
As Ian returned, the
guy from the cycle shop finished unloading his boxes into
the cardboard recycling cage and gave us a wave as he headed
back to town, perhaps wondering what kind of cycle tourists
would visit a recycling depot. "So, what's next Ian?" I
asked as we prepared to leave.
"Well, we were getting a lot of
requests about those beverage cartons, so we're doing a
pilot to see if we can find a market for them." It's another
first for Cumbria and another example of how this small
outfit is responding to community demands. "We've found
a mill in Fife that's can separate out the cardboard, plastic
and foil in juice, custard and milk cartons. Apparently
they can turn them into paper bags, tissue and Christmas
wrapping. It's amazing what people can do these days. "
Indeed it is. As we left Ian and
the Eden Recycling Centre, the boys seemed particularly
pleased with the visit and the recycled rocket they had
made out of an old fork thrust into a plastic bottle complete
with squashed tin wings and a foil nose. They clearly got
the message about the value of recycling.
Rubbish is beautiful