THE multi-million-pound waste sorting machine at Waterbeach that broke down in September could be out of action until the end of the year.

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Waste contractor AmeyCespa is still investigating the cause of the failure of the Mechanical Biological Treatment facility but a spokesman said the company had “an indication” of the potential work needed to bring the equipment back into use.

The MBT treats Cambridgeshire’s “black bag” rubbish, and is capable of processing 112,000 tonnes of waste per year. It incorporates technology to extract recyclable materials from the rubbish, with the remaining non-recyclable waste travelling through a composting hall for seven weeks. The material remaining after the seven-week process is then sent to landfill.

The compost hall has two “lines” of equipment which turn the waste continuously over the seven-week period as it composts. Mechanical failure occurred to the turning equipment on one of the compost hall lines on September 18 and the facility has not been in use since.

The spokesman said: “We now anticipate that works will be required to replace the turning equipment on both lines. Replacing this equipment will ensure a robust and reliable facility is developed and designed which will serve the black bag waste needs of Cambridgeshire for the duration of the remaining contract period.

“This type of equipment is highly specialist and requires bespoke design and manufacture for AmeyCespa’s Waterbeach facility. The time required to undertake the procurement, design, manufacture and installation phases of new equipment will mean that commissioning is unlikely to start until December 2013.”

She added: “The investigation has taken longer than originally anticipated, due to the complexity and size of the equipment and the nature of the failure. However, this time has been essential to ensure we undertook full and thorough research into both the failure and the remedy required, as well as to protect the health and safety of our employees.

While the MBT is not functioning, black bag waste from Cambridgeshire will be sent straight to land fill. The landfill tax is paid by AmeyCespa and due to the “robust” PFI contract Cambridgeshire County Council put in place, the authority and, therefore the council tax payer, is protected from any additional costs.

The spokesman added: “We would like to stress that residents should continue to recycle as much as possible through their normal district council collection scheme, which will continue to be collected in the usual way. Cambridgeshire has a fantastic record for recycling and AmeyCespa is committed to working with Cambridgeshire County Council to ensure this will continue in the years to come.”

County councilor Matthew Shuter said: “AmeyCespa have confirmed to the County Council the work required to repair their MBT plant at Waterbeach is substantial and means the plant might not be back in full operation until 2014.

“Clearly this is a very frustrating situation for all of us but does highlight the nature of the mechanical breakdown and the need for the detailed investigation which has taken place.

“The priority now is for AmeyCespa to focus on bringing the plant back into operation and to manage the County’s waste in the most sustainable way. They will also continue to investigate ways to reduce the amount of waste which will go to landfill.

“I would like to make it clear that due to the robust PFI contract the County Council has in place - the authority and therefore the Council Tax payer is protected from any additional costs incurred because of the breakdown. With the MBT not functioning for the next year, the landfill tax charges associated with landfilling the black bin waste are paid by AmeyCespa. This highlights the measures which the County Council put in place to ensure the risks of running the contract lay with the private sector not the tax payer.

“During this time we would also like to remind residents how important it is to sort and recycle your waste. For the problems at the plant only affect how ‘black sack’ waste is dealt with – I can reassure everyone that the items you put out to recycled in your kerbside collections will be reused and recycled as far as possible.”

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