Good Friday – A Rubbish Tale

“Eh, but it weren’t reet gud for’ im, now, weren’t Good Friday!” said my drinking companions as they supped their ale. It was Monday night and I’d gone to my wonderful local pub to relax. I agreed with them that it wasn’t ‘reet gud’ for Jesus. “So, d’you know why it is called Good Friday?” I asked. Shame we weren’t having this conversation the next day.

On Tuesday I received a marvellous illustration of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. I was grateful to join a party from Menston organised by Marilyn Bannister, whom I’d met during the Leeds Diocese’s Saving Creation Silver course. They were visiting a large waste incinerator. This was Leeds’ RERF (Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility) plant, built and operated by French company Veolia. It looks an impressive building from the outside, and inside it’s packed with chambers, metal gantries, miles of piping, trunking, and – most importantly – a control room with live process diagrams and CCTV screens.

What happens to that awful concoction that goes into our black (general waste) bins? Plastic wrappers, dirty pizza boxes, chicken poo, discarded underwear, mattresses, you name it…On this site, the dustbin wagons tip it into a huge hall where processing begins, by the material passing through a shredder to open plastic bags. Iron and steel waste is removed using magnets, then non-ferrous metals (mostly aluminium) are removed by eddy current separation which temporarily causes these to behave as if magnetic. Both types are sold to metal recycling firms.

The waste then passes up a conveyer into a huge chamber. Ugh, what a horrible, messy sight! An enormous grabber picks up and spreads the evil mixture around this vast ampitheatre. Then it’s fed into a furnace maintained at a minimum temperature of 850ºC. We looked inside through a porthole. One could imagine Shadrach, Mechach and Abednego from the book of Daniel, dancing amongst the flames. Most of the heat generated is converted into electricity, enough to power around 22,000 homes in addition to what’s needed to run the plant. Steam generated in the plant also feeds into the city’s District Heating Scheme that warms many of its council buildings and maisonettes.

Early incinerator plants were infamous for releasing obnoxious, poisonous substances into the atmosphere. Not this one. It was a bit smelly inside, but nothing unpleasant outside the building or in the control room. Apart from CO2 and water, the flue gases are captured and sent for disposal as a small volume of chemical waste.

27% of the waste feedstock (by weight) isn’t organic – that is, it’s not carbon-containing – and so doesn’t burn, but is oxidised to form ash. This is taken away in trucks to become road aggregate.

I am heartened by the way technological excellence and sound commercial enterprise is helping fight our war against climate catastrophe. But it was disappointing to hear that, in Leeds, food waste goes into the black bins. It isn’t separated out because funding wasn’t available, despite a successful trial, to build the facility that was needed.


On the Cross, Jesus achieved what this facility does, only more! As St Paul put it (2 Corinthians 5 vs 21),

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become ever more aware of how much God loves me, yet also of how far I fall short of his standards. We can come to the Cross just like what’s in those black bins, completely unworthy of God’s acceptance. Jesus’ sacrifice in dying for us is able to transform us – as does the RERF plant – from cast-offs into materials that are useful, giving us energy to power our lives and those of others. Like the flue gases, we can be scrubbed clean, so we can live lives pleasing to God. And, an item of rubbish doesn’t have to ‘try’ to become clean. It just has to submit to the process.

The Cross is very, very good news indeed!


[The theme picture is of the Living Wall, a vertical garden created on the side of Veolia’s plant. This isn’t part of their process, but it certainly looks impressive! Ask the kestrels who nest there…]

4 thoughts on “Good Friday – A Rubbish Tale

  1. Loved this John. Amazing how technology is developing unbeknown to most of us but the way you likened it to what Jesus did for us is fantastic. Thank you so much.

    Do you mind if I forward it to a friend?

    Bless you.



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