Rather a different subject for this latest blog, but one which has become important to us all! The Charente department (county) has two household waste treatment facilities, one for refuse and one for recycled material. We thought a visit to the nearby recycling facility would be an educational experience, so we got ourselves included in one of the regular organised tours a few days back to see an example of how France approaches this critical service.
The facility is run by Calitom, a quasi-governmental body. This site was developed on part of an old military base and it was completed in 2015, using the latest available technology in its design. A high level of automation and mechanisation is involved; there seemed to be surprisingly few people working there! The building also incorporates very "green" principles, innovative electricity generation and sedum (plant) roof coverings being two examples.
A model of the recycling complex, which processes about 40,000 tonnes of material every year. This does not include glass, which is collected separately everywhere in France. Large green plastic collection bins for glass, regularly emptied, are scattered throughout villages and towns; many large supermarkets have them too. There are about 1050 in the Charente and the public appear very committed to using them!
The principle used by Calitom is that the householder is given no responsibility for any kind of recycle sorting, beyond the decision whether the material is recyclable or not. In the UK, for example, the householder is required to sort and this appears to cause cross-contamination problems when the sorting is not done correctly.
Unsorted recycled material is collected from householders in free yellow (recyclable!) plastic bags every 2 weeks on a house-by-house basis. The lorries bring the bags to this enormous unloading area; they discharge them through the big roller shutter doors you can see at the back.
A rubber tracked mini-shovel (you can just see the bucket in the last photo) scoops the bags up and loads them into the hopper above. This is the last of the quieter part of the process and the guided tour passed us into the noisy conveyor hall. Visitors are provided with wi-fi type headphones which both mask the background din and allow one to hear the guide's commentary!
The first part of the material sort is by size, using a big revolving cylindrical sieve called a trommel, in which items drop out through varying size holes as it rotates; the smallest items drop out first, although some of these, like corks, cannot be recycled and have to be rejected.
Once sorted by the trommel, the material drops on to a variety of other conveyors.
This is an inclined vibrating conveyor referred to in the blue sign below. The photo had to be taken from an awkward angle; the belt is rising from left to right and the shot is taken from above. The grey tube is a handrail over which I was leaning!
This sign describes the process of a sloping vibrating conveyor, on which lighter flat plastic is carried towards the top before being diverted to other belts, while heavier plastic containers are shaken to the foot of the conveyor and diverted there.
This is a belt manned by people (!), who were manually separating plastic and paper "families" (see photo below). Plastic sheet is transferred by the sorters via chutes to other belts, leaving only cardboard and paper on this belt, as can be seen here.
The sign informs us about optical sorting of plastic and paper, once these "families" have been separated. Sensors detect the different compositions of clear and coloured polythene, paper, cardboard, and magazines, etc and they are separated by means of jets of air, which are used to blow selected items on to different belts for further sorting.
In case you were wondering about metals, this sign explains that iron and steel detected on the conveyor are removed by magnet, while non-ferrous metals are isolated by a device called Foucault's current (eddy current), which is apparently a kind of magnetic field!
A top to bottom view of the facility showing its substantial height.
Sorting belts for newspapers and magazines. This was taken during a 15 minute workers' rest break! Photography of the workers themselves was, understandably, not allowed.
A row of bins for sundry items which shouldn't have been put in the "yellow bag" system, like batteries and electrical items for example, but which nevertheless have value and which would be recycled to appropriate places via these bins.
Bales of correctly recovered paper, plastic, etc awaiting removal to stacks in an outside yard, from where they are loaded on lorries for transport elsewhere. Each bale weighs about one tonne.
A display board showing the impressive variety of material which can be processed in this facility. As of this year, even aluminium foil and small jar tops of steel and aluminium can now be recycled, as you can see in the photo. We enjoyed the tour and benefitted from the visual experience and the commentary and explanations from the guide. If you can find a tour like this in your area, we suggest it would be worth going along!
My thanks to Nigel for the write up here, while the photos are mine.
See also my photodiarydps
and my bird blog