For more than 40 years it’s been creating almost-entirely clean energy from all of our rubbish, via an ingenious process.
It generates heat and electricity for thousands of homes and businesses, all from a byproduct which would otherwise be filling up landfill sites, rotting away for generations and emitting huge quantities of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
Every single item which is thrown into a wheelie bin in Nottingham, Gedling, Broxtowe and Rushcliffe is taken to the Eastcroft incinerator, on London Road.
When your main bin is collected, the bin lorry takes it up a ramp inside the enormous building.
The building itself is pressurised, so you can be standing right outside, within a few feet of hundreds of tonnes of rubbish, and not smell anything unpleasant.
Once the bin lorries have driven into the pressurised building, they then reverse into one of several bays and all tip their contents – between 3,500 and 4,000 tonnes a week – into a giant pit full of rubbish.
A grabber, like those inside the funfair machines but a thousand times bigger, picks up huge swathes of rubbish, lifts it hundreds of feet into the air, then drops it into a chute.
This then gets fed into two giant incinerators, which burn round the clock at 850 degrees centigrade.
German built, these are like constantly-moving conveyor belts, but on an angle, so while they slope down the belt moves things upwards.
This creates a churn of burning rubbish, which is then monitored by thermal imaging cameras.
Hot air – which itself was created by the fire – is fed into the incinerators, and is distributed based on the data from the thermal cameras, so that the whole of the fire is as close to 850 degrees centigrade as possible.
The heat from the constantly-raging infernos then heats water, which turns into steam.
This then goes to the Enviroenergy district heating system on London Road, and is used to spin a turbine, creating electricity.
The remaining water, which is no longer boiling but is still warm, is then pumped around the city to be used for central heating.
Not everything that goes into the incinerator will burn. The ash, which makes up 80 percent of what’s left after the fire is turned into material to repair roads with.
Glass and metal make up the remaining 20 percent, and these are then separated and taken away to be recycled.
Even the incinerators themselves are almost entirely self-sustaining. The plant closes for a month every year – in July – for maintenance.
After this, they have to use a small amount of conventional fossil fuels to get the incinerators back up to temperature.
But once this is done, the constant flow of rubbish and hot air is enough to keep the flames burning.
What you see coming out of the chimney is almost all steam, rather than smoke.
An automated machine continually monitors these emissions, and adds various chemicals to neutralise them.
The Environment Agency has complete open access to this data, meaning they can monitor it at any time to ensure emissions level are never breached.
Tony Cox is the man who leads the team of 40 which keeps the plant working 24/7, 11 months of the year.
He’s a man who’s passionate about his job, and the good the plant is doing.
“When we look at sustainability and efficiency, using waste to generate heat and power is the most efficient way of creating renewable energy and disposing of waste at the same time.
“It’s as efficient as it gets.
“The thing I love about it is that we’re providing a service by taking away the waste, we’re avoiding creating a legacy problem for future generations by burying it in landfill, and we’re making low-carbon energy for 4,800 properties in Nottingham.
“I’m proud of what we do.”
Councillor Sally Longford is the deputy leader of the council, and the portfolio holder for energy and environment.
She represents Lenton and Wollaton East for Labour, and said: “I’m pleased that around 160,000 tons of municipal waste which would normally go to landfill every year is instead burnt at our Eastcroft incinerator, to be turned into heating and electricity for local homes and businesses.
“EnviroEnergy is one of the longest established district heating companies in the country, turning 180,000 megawatts of high pressure steam from burning the waste into heat and electricity.
“Through the largest district heating system in the UK, it provides low-carbon, low-cost energy for around 4,700 homes and 130 businesses across Nottingham, including the Victoria shopping centre, the National Ice Centre Arena, Nottingham Trent University, BioCity, HM Revenue and Customs, the Royal Centre, Jury’s Inn and various other large local developments.
“It’s another reason we are ahead of the curve when it comes to becoming carbon neutral.”
So next time you feel a pang of environmental guilt when you look at your overflowing wheelie bin, you can rest assured that as much good as possible will still be made from what you throw out.