Image: Canada Dry Dock, Liverpool

While recycling is promoted as universally positive the material processes associated with recycling itself are potentially dangerous. Essays by Brian Ashton, Steve Tombs & David Whyte, together with an artwork by David Jacques, explore the dirty business of ‘regeneration’ on Liverpool’s dockside

A trip down the dock road in the old days would have been an interesting and pleasant experience. You could have taken in the sights from the vantage points offered by the overhead railway, and if you decided to stretch your legs as you reached Canada Dock station you would have been greeted by the smells of Canadian pine and birch as you alighted. Canada was the dock for the importing of timber; wood still comes in, but further down the road towards Seaforth.

Today a trip down to Canada Dock would not be one you would want to repeat. The Overhead has long gone, and the aromas of wood resins have been replaced by the stench of god knows what. And if you were to ask an industrial chemist to analyse the dust and dirt that coats the environs of the North End docks he or she would tell you that they contain arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury. Not the sort of minerals you would want excesses of in your body. So, you say, I’m staying away from there. And who could blame you. But what about those who live and work in the area? And what is producing the deterioration in the air quality around the Canada Dock area? Or should that be, who?

In the globalised economy that is 21st century capitalism, commodities are increasingly produced in places like China, India and Slovakia. The major markets for commodities are Europe and North America. The demand for metals is increasing in the East, and the West is producing the waste, like old cars, busted washing machines and fridges. As well as consumer waste there are over 75 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste produced per annum in the UK. Complex supply chains exist to produce and deliver the commodities we are all encouraged to consume, and equally complex chains exist to return the recycled waste to the Far Eastern and Eastern European producing countries. And, yes, the whole bloody process starts all over again as it gets turned into cars, washing machines and fridges.

Liverpool is an important centre for the recycling of the waste that is sent back to the East. It has a number of advantages; it is a major port, a port with land to spare, and it has an available supply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. These advantages have attracted companies who are intent on making a profit out of the scrap and crap that consumerism produces. The possibility for profit has increased owing to European and UK legislation on disposal of end of life vehicles (ELV) and regulations on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The ELV directive was implemented in the UK through the ELV Regulations 2003 and 2005. The WEEE regulations came into force in January 2007.

The 2003 ELV regulations stated that vehicles had to be de-polluted, all hazardous fluids, batteries and tyres had to be removed and recycled or disposed of lawfully. 2005 regulations put the onus on the original vehicle manufacturer to provide a free take-back service to the last owners of complete ELVs. The 2005 regulations provided an opportunity for companies in the business of dismantling vehicles. They formed themselves into consortia to gain the business of collecting and recycling ELVs.

Two companies with plants in the docklands of North Liverpool, European Metal Recycling (EMR) and S. Norton & Co. Ltd, better known as Norton Scrap, have helped to set up these organisations. According to their web site, the consortium headed by EMR has no formal contracts with vehicle producers. Norton, on the other hand, have formal contracts with producers through the organisation they helped to set up, Some 30-odd vehicle manufacturers have signed up with the organisation. Norton are one of the ten companies who set it up, but there are over two hundred other companies in this recycling supply chain and they provide over 250 sites across the country for the disposal of your car. So, if your Alfa Romeo or Bugatti is on its last legs then get in touch with and they will do the business for you. It is estimated that Norton and their partners expect to reach an annual turnover of one billion pounds sterling, and to produce four million tonnes of recycled scrap. That is 40 percent of the UK’s total.

© Georgina Rowlands, all rights reserved