One of the headlines on the BBC News website today is "Alarm at Med Pollution at Covid Protection Waste". The story outlines the concerns of a French environmental agency at the discovery of large quanties of protective equipment being found on the mediterranean seabed. My first reaction to this story was to think "so it is not just the streets of Wyken that are littered with this stuff!).
Over the last few weeks I have been dismayed at the number of protective masks and gloves disgarded on the local streets and I'm at a loss to understand the logic behind it. That anybody can use protective gear to prevent the spread of a virus and then just drop it onto the pavement makes no sense at all. It brings to mind the phenomenon of some people picking up and bagging dog waste only to hang the bag on the nearest tree - a behaviour I have often pondered but never got close to understanding!
These thoughts about the disposal of waste have made me give a bit of thought to how we have disposed of waste in our city over the years.
Many of my blog posts have referred to the old Wyken coal fields. Craven Colliery stood between what is now Henley Road and the River Sowe (roughly half-way between Wyken Croft and Woodway Lane). Three seams of coal were worked from the site at depths between 220 and 250 metres over around one hundred and fifty years up until 1927.
I paid a visit to the City Archives last year to research the history of the colliery and to get an understanding of the layout of the buildings and shafts on the site, Amongst the documents that I looked at was one giving permission for domestic waste to be dumped down the main shaft of the colliery. The mine was closed in 1927 and by the 1930s the shaft (which is just 30 yards off the Henley Road) was filled with household rubbish. Any domestic refuse with the exception of "human waste" was considered to be suitable to go down that hole. Related documents that I saw that day left me with the impression that any hole in the city was considered as a suitable dump including permissions for the disposal of chemical waste from Foleshill factories into the old quarry between Foleshill and Stony Stanton Road.
Just a stone's throw from the Craven Colliery site is the Wyken Croft Nature Reserve lying between the River Sowe and St Mary Magdalene church (the oldest standing building within Coventry's modern boundary). A section of the Sowe Valley path provides a pleasant walk through the parkland and on towards Ansty Road. The land was used for medieval farming - hence the name "Croft", open cast mining ahead of the construction of the shafts in the late 1700s and beyond and more recently as a post-war landfill site. As well as coal, gravel and sand were also historically extracted nearby.The landfill site was used for the disposal of "deposited waste including inert and household waste".
Environmental reports ahead of construction work on Henley Green school show that although there was contamination from chemicals, toxins, metals and gases from the landfill workings they were well within levels considered to be safe. Other conclusions included that there is very little risk of subsidence from the old mine workings (possibly as they are stuffed with household rubbish?!).
Coventry was one of the earliest communities in the UK to use household waste to produce energy. The Whitley waste to energy plant originally powered the Chrysler / Peugeot / Talbot car factory which stood between Humber Road and Aldermooor Lane. This was originally the Humber factory which my grandmother worked in as a fourteen year old during WW1 as part of the war effort ahead of meeting my grandfather there after he had returned from fighting on fronts which had included the Somme and Ypres.
It is also good that our household waste is now divided into that which goes into the waste to energy plant (now serving Coventry University buildings), that wich is considered recyclable and that which is compostible. It is still a concern however that much of our country's "recyclable" waste finds its way thousands of miles overseas (wasting rather than conserving energy) - reportedly often to largely unregulated "markets". That BBC news story about our polluted seas comes back to mind!
In the coming days I'm hoping to look into how Coventry disposed of waste in the more distant past - so more to come on the subject.......