Cambridgeshire composter breakdown costs £60,000 a week

Landfill site
Image caption An extra 1,000 tonnes of waste is now going to landfill after a processing machine broke down

A £42m machine to compost biodegradable waste filtered from household rubbish in Cambridgeshire has broken down after just months in action.

The machine, at a recycling plant at Waterbeach, is designed to deal with 2,200 tonnes of waste a week to save more than £60,000 in landfill costs.

At the heart of the machine is a device with two giant wheels supported on beams to crush waste for composting.

One beam broke on 18 September and the machine was stopped for safety reasons.

The machine was installed by BAM Nuttall, who built the county's guided busway, and is operated by AmeyCespa under a contract from Cambridgeshire County Council.

BAM engineers have been trying to discover why the beam broke since the 18 September breakdown.

They are due to report by the end of October.

AmeyCespa said they stopped all operations on the machine because the safety of its staff was a priority consideration.

Contractor to pay

"Until we find out what happened we cannot be sure that the second wheel will not suffer similar problems," a spokeswoman said.

"There is a risk to the safety of our staff.

"The machine broke at the end of a shift when only two staff were on site and neither of them was in the composting hall.

"Staff in there have to wear special clothes and breathing apparatus because it is such a nasty environment.

"We hope to have a report on the causes of the breakdown by the end of the month and then repairs can be carried out," she said.

The technology was pioneered in Europe but it is not yet known if any of the plants there have suffered similar problems.

It has left Cambridgeshire County Council with a problem of dealing with waste and has also hit its record of recycling 57% of waste.

All rubbish is now going to landfill and that means the 1,000 tonnes per week which was processed could be costing an extra £60,000 or more with lost sales of compost.

Matthew Shuter, the council's cabinet member for waste, said: "We are working to keep the costs to an absolute minimum.

"The contract we have is very robust and protects us and the taxpayer."

A BAM Nuttall spokesman said: "We acknowledge there is a problem and we are carrying out a thorough investigation as to the cause of any failure."

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