At the height of their construction in the 18th century, canals ran like trunk roads, meandering across the country, following natural geographies while serving the greatest possible catchment area for trade. However, after years of neglect these major transport arteries fell into disuse and disrepair. Testament to the power of innovation over inattention, Elliot Lancaster, Founder of iRecycle is showing how these urban waterways are more than just a short cut through the city.
“Winding the clock back about 4 years ago, we had a contract for Kings Cross Estate, through which runs Regents canal. This was when I first had the idea to use a barge to transport waste outside of the Estate, as a green solution to waste management. We carried out a feasibility plan, integrated the supply chain and generated a strong business case for the reuse of the canal system, said Elliot.”
This new solution, enabling clients to reduce costs by avoiding the rising prices of fuel, and reducing their CO2 emissions has provided a clean and sustainable transport and waste disposal alternative.
“Working with Camden market, we have established a regular disposal service that, as well as utilising the famous Regents canal, provides a pure waste by water service collection. We now have a bin store adjacent to the canal where we process the waste from Camden market. Camden Market produces around 35 tonnes of waste per week. Prior to iRecycle taking on the contract in January this year, there was no waste segregation, resulting in all streams becoming contaminated. Now, food waste goes into our bin store and is processed through anaerobic digestion allowing the generated power to be reintroduced into the power grid. “
Canals and navigable rivers form a major transport network throughout London with the spare capacity to take away the need for thousands of lorry journeys.
iRecycle currently has 2 barges a week moving 16 tonnes at a time. Road based recycling services that are using cage tipper vans to transport this waste can transport a maximum of a tonne at a time. Our barges are carrying 16 times this amount.”
“Our long-term aspiration is to have EV’s going to electric barges, which when used for commercial purposes would be the first of their kind in the UK. Conservatively speaking, if in 20 years 50% of London’s vehicles are electric, we are decreasing congestion for the other 50% by using barges. Additionally, an HGV lorry emits 25kg of CO2 per tonne of waste, a barge emits only 6 kg. With freight traffic expected to grow by a third in the next decade, these are significant numbers. “
“However, that does not mean we can’t search for efficiencies in all that we do. The barges we have are 100 years old and designed to carry aggregate. After six months of operation I started to look at how we could condense the amount of waste our barges are capable of carrying. At that time, our barges could carry 70 tonnes of waste, with an unfavourable percentage of air taking up that space.
As part of a trial we conducted back in August, we utilised a barge with a compactor on the back, resulting in 50% more compaction. “
In addition to its mission to reduce carbon associated with waste management, iRecycle has supported ending homelessness from its inception.
“Our ideology is to benefit the environment from within the company, as well as outside through the specialist services we provide to our clients. We are enormously proud to help homeless candidates back into work, providing them employment, stability and support as they return to independent living. 10 years ago, Marion, one of our RtW drivers became homeless. He has since successfully applied for his own property this year and we are delighted that he was handed the keys to his new home in May 2019. We have now employed three members of staff from Crisis, and long may that continue.’
iRecycle has recently achieved certification to The Planet Mark, and in doing so commited to reducing its carbon emissions year-on-year
“Our alliance with The Planet Mark is an integral part of our ability to independently measure our own carbon footprint and transparently demonstrate to our clients how iRecycle is adressing its impact on the environment. The partnerships bring together two organisations with the environment at the core of their DNA. The Planet Mark is a symbol of progress in tackling climate change and our association with them is something I’m very excited about”
With their gentle speed and air of serenity, it is easy to forget their original purpose was for trade and transportation. But after 200 years of disuse and disrepair, innovative thinkers such as iRecycle should be celebrated for modernising and repurposing London’s iconic canal system.