With over 17 million passenger entries and exits recorded to the station from 2018 to 2019, Brighton station has earned the title of the seventh busiest station in the UK outside of London. Although this high passenger footfall to the station brings with it a number of benefits, such as revenue, creation of jobs and tourism opportunities, as with most areas with high passenger footfall, the issue of litter is one that many locations struggle to escape.
Started by Govia Thameslink, the recycling initiative aims to increase recycling rates at the station to 95% from its current 30%. At present 12% of the total waste collected by Govia Thameslink Railway’s 800-mile network is sourced from Brighton, which has been recorded to produce 650 tonnes of rubbish per year.
The incorporation of the recycling unit is thanks to a new partnership with sustainability start-up Green Block. The inclusion of this recycling unit is the second one to be installed within the UK, the first being located at London Victoria which was included in 2020.
Recycle recycle recycle!
Developed by UK start-up company The Green Block – an improvement specialist business focusing within facilities management, assisting companies to perform at their operational and commercial best – the mobile segregation unit (MSU) is already making strides at Brighton.
Since being installed at the start of September, the MSU has prevented 32 tonnes of waste being incinerated by segregating it into the correct sections to be recycled and reused. It has been estimated that if the unit continues to remain at this level, 400 tonnes of waste will be recycled between now and September 2022.
Commenting on these figures Andy Williams, co-founder and director of The Green Block said: “The unit has already taken Brighton station’s waste from a recycling figure of 25% to 90.1% within two months. It is our ambition to get to 95% but from 90% the moving of 1% is the hard yards that we keep striving to deliver through the reducing of waste to energy or recovery.”
“We are currently looking at the prevention of waste coming into the station too, along with the ‘re-use’ of certain materials. It’s a cliché but it is a journey and one that we shall continue to work in a collaborative fashion with GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway’s), and the stations excellent management team.”
The unit is able to segregate, wash, compact, bale, weigh and electronically tag all waste which is placed into it – this rubbish will not only be collected from around the station but from the trains themselves upon arrival at Brighton.
Speaking on the inclusion of the unit at Brighton station Williams said: “The implementation of the Brighton mobile segregation Unit came from the success of the Network Rail MSU at London Victoria managed station, which took Network Rail’s total waste of 1,100 tonnes of dirty or co-mingled waste (passenger, station, and retail waste) recycling figures from 12.9% to 91.2%.”
“GTR are a TOC (Train operating Company) within Victoria and were so impressed with the system they implemented it at their Brighton station which generates over 600 tonnes of co-mingled waste.”
The initiative was unveiled as part of National Recycling Week which ran from 20th – 26th September this year and is receiving high praise since its inclusion.
The green benefits
With over 1.5 billion individual rail journeys being made in the UK each year, (pre-pandemic) passengers generate tonnes of waste products with the majority of items not being recycled.
With landfills filling up day by day the UK Government has issued a target of 90% recycling of all station waste to be delivered by TOC’s by the end of 2022. With the unit managing not only train operator waste but retail waste too, it is able to achieve greater figures than ones which mainly focus on retail waste.
Williams comments: “The key to railways is that our unit deals directly with train operators waste as well as retail waste. The difficult waste to manage is the passenger waste that is co-mingled, this is what sets us apart from the rest of the solutions in the marketplace.”
With the impressive figures so far at Brighton station it is hoped that the unit continues to drive these high recycle rates and exceed the Government’s target.
Alongside the benefits of recycling materials, the unit has also provided jobs for individuals in Brighton who have been given the title: ‘waste wardens.’ These ten individuals are in charge of managing and segregating the waste which goes into the unit.
Although the increased recycling rates and the creation of jobs are fantastic news for the station, the company believe that the key benefit lays elsewhere, Williams says: “It is our belief that the single largest benefit is that we have changed the behaviour towards the management of waste at Brighton.”
“The culture and attitude have been reset through our intense education process which is delivered through multiple workshops with TOC’s, retailers and station management teams.”
The future of rail recycling
Although tons of waste which could have been recycled ends up in landfills across the UK every year there is a strong sense of importance amongst the public when it comes to recycling. In a study carried out by UK waste management company, Business Waste, from the 1,500 rail passengers who were surveyed results showed at 82% of passengers would recycle their waste onboard trains or at platforms if these facilities existed. Results showed than only 9% of passengers would take their waste home if they thought that it could be recycled.
With figures like this in mind it poses the question of should the rail industry be doing even more to ensure that waste is being recycled as much as possible on platforms and trains? However, when considering this fact issues of security and the risk of terrorism threats pose as a key concern surrounding bin inclusion at UK stations.
Paired with the issue of safety, another potential concern surrounds members of the public: would the bins be used correctly, ensuring that what was placed within the ‘recycling’ section of the bin could in fact be recycled?
With these concerns in mind having trained staff at stations segregating the waste behind the scenes offers an efficient method of ensuring the waste is sorted correctly in a safe, secure manner.
Until the inclusion of recycling facilities within trains and stations is discussed and explored, success continues to grow from the MSU inclusion at London Victoria and Brighton station. Due to the success The Green Block are currently in discussion with several UK TOC’s as well as aiming to include units in stations across the ocean in Europe and North America.
Speaking on future development for the company Williams comments: “We have some further innovative approaches that we believe make the railways in the UK even greener than they already are, and we are just delighted to be working within forward-thinking companies that are taking sustainability seriously within their organisation.”
With GTR and Network Rail making strides when it comes to achieving net zero and decarbonisation goals, an uptake of these units is hoped to be seen across more stations around the UK – providing a green solution for the rail industry’s waste worries.