The Rise of the New Gong

Pig Row has a dark secret, well not that dark if you look at Google maps, in fact it's pretty damn clear what the secret is from the air or was until recently.

How landfill could become a super power.

When we moved here in late 2009 we were aware that there was an old disused quarry behind the house. It's actually further away than it looks and until recently was landfill. This would make many people run for the hills, which would be rather stupid as they would run up our hill and into the landfill. We didn't move to Pig Row oblivious to the problems with landfill, we did our homework and looked at the pros and cons of living with such a site, it became quickly apparent that landfills (as we envisage them) where becoming a thing of the past. It also became clear that the company who manages the landfill near us where here for the long haul. Who can blame them? The gas produced from this landfill powers the national grid and at the amount they are sucking off every hour would make your bank manager weep to be your new best friend. The bad name of landfill, born out of the old mismanaged sites, literally started with crap and ended with crap. Yet, crap is big money now from companies seeking to use sewage to heat homes to new power plants taking your rubbish and using the compost process to obtain gas to power generators. 

Greening up landfills makes them into interesting power stations

Last month we were invited to come and see the future of the site, to discuss the future of landfill and to see first hand the scale of engineering going on behind our house. We went with open hearts, open minds and with the knowledge if anything went wrong we had lunch slowly cooking at home in the oven. 

Why are we afraid of our waste? Life on Pig Row investigates.

The landfill staff met us with a buffet, free drinks and an outlining plan for what would happen to the site. It is to become a wildlife reserve for twites - yes, we misheard too - we have a thriving bird colony at Pig Row, and we don't just mean our plans to have chickens, we regularly see swifts, lapwings, kites, buzzards, falcons, bullfinches and tits - okay, you can snigger. Up to the closure of the tip we regularly had seagulls too but they have disappeared this year and the reason is simple. There is simple no rubbish to be seen anymore, there are no bulldozers pushing it around to then cap over with soil. This brings us to the engineering part, it's science, Jim, but not as we know it. We all have an image of what landfill sites look like, smell like and act like when accused of poisoning communities but over the last two decades this growing industry has been made to clean up its act. No more can you dig a hole in the ground and shove the accumulated crap of the city of Manchester into it (that's a lot of crap, around 1,100,000 tonnes of crap every year). It's not sustainable and that means something has to change, and that is why we have seen a drive to recycle. Yet, the lessons learnt from landfill sites have resulted in a new source of power, and could with the demise of coal power stations be part of our future power generation. We could live in a world where our power is derived from nuclear (sadly), wind, water, solar and crap. If we take out nuclear we could literally become power solvent through harnessing our old crap and embracing the rotting process. That's why landfill sticks in people's throats, it's the idea of all that rotting food, household objects, waste all slowly rotting away. It is the arse end of power generating, it is the distasteful and it is the rise of the gong farmer. We owe a lot to the Tudor night soil collector, the gong farmer, most of our green and beautiful land was fertilized by human waste taken from the growing cities of yesteryear. Tomorrow will see a rise of it once more, our sewage will heat our homes, the waste heat from chimneys will heat our water and everything we discard will, and is, big money for the new gong farmer.

Engineering on a massive scale around our waste could power our homes.

What we were not prepared for was the sheer scale of the engineering this industry works on. It's staggering. As a society we often look back to the great engineers of the Victorian England, applaud Brunel as a great Briton but we forget Bazalgette, the man who gave us modern sewage and who without we would all still be subject to cholera. Today though there are great engineering projects and we have one taking place on our quiet hillside for the next eighteen months after which there will be no more smells, no more machines and no more seagulls. They've delivered on the latter so far.

Fracking is a dead end when we have a natural resource we could use, night soil.

Everyday we have seen lorry after lorry going down the hill taking away the harvested gas from the landfill to go to power stations. Everyday we have seen mammoth lorries bringing in top soil and materials to cap the tip. You can see below, in the photo, how they will place a three-ply membrane over the ground, then aggregates, then top soil and then the pipes to pull out the leachates and the gas, all taken away, all processed and all used again. We're not saying it's perfect but in eighteen months the greening will start, the ponds will go in and the birds will have a new home. We know things have been changing since 2009, there are more birds on our hillside, bee colonies have skyrocketed and there has been an influx of rabbits, hares, foxes and badgers.

Forget everything you know about crap.

You may think that's the end of the story, that the tip (like so many before) is capped and left to its own devices. It's a question we asked. The simple fact is that the gas coming off the site may last for sixty years or more and that means the company has to stay for that time until the site is inert. After that they have to continue to manage the site as a wildlife reserve. Landfill may be our nation's dirty little secret but it could also be the power of tomorrow, I doubt there is any nuclear waste that takes 60 years to degrade and that isn't crap. Crap's become too big to brush under a hillside anymore. Crap is the power of today and tomorrow, and answers a lot of our problems with waste.