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Current Past




Walk 2, Stanway Quarry: Inland Landfill

In a former quarry a few miles east of Colchester lies a secretive, enormous landfill site. At 2.3 million cubic metres capacity, Stanway landfill is one of the largest active landfill sites in the country.

Site manager, Mark Harling, explains how after clearing a vast hole in the land, a kind of campers’ groundsheet is laid over its surface area. Only then is the hole filled with waste, before being ‘capped’ and hermetically sealed with a layer of concrete and fresh soil seeded with grass.

Even though the landfill hole we walk over is not yet capped, it doesn’t feel like we are in an active landfill site. Huge diggers roll along the surface of the rubbish, patting it down like a sandcastle and making sure it is evenly spread. It feels more like we are visiting a meticulously tended crop field, one that’s found a way to use rubbish as its seed. Although the place is clearly ‘a dump’, it feels almost clean. Unlike the other sites, for instance, this one has no smell, even as more and more lorries continue to unload their waste into the ground.

Even when the waste they unload is capped and ‘laid to rest’, it remains in chemical flux. Its seal is airtight, the waste is broken down by anaerobic bacteria that release a composition of ‘landfill gases’, much of which is methane. To retrieve these gases, large pipes bore into the cell, draining and channelling the methane to generators for use as a fuel. Meanwhile, the decomposition’s toxic by-product, called leachate – a liquid that curdles in the bottom of domestic rubbish bins – is siphoned off into vast cylindrical vats, biologically treated and dissolved. We are told the site uses small insects to treat and cleanse it.

Blog: Eloise Hawser
Images: Frances Christie, Hayley Dixon, and Eloise Hawser

This event was presented as part of 800,000 tonnes: Waste Management and Recycling in Essex, a programme of displays, site tours, and discussions that took place to map waste in Essex past and present by artist Eloise Hawser, who wrote the above text. 800,000 tonnes was supported by a National Lottery Grant from Arts Council England.

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Radical Essex is a project re-examining the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. A programme of events will take place across Essex throughout 2016 and 2017, shedding light on the vibrant, pioneering thinking of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The project will celebrate the crucial role Essex has played in the history of British Modernism and its utopian ideologies under the themes ‘The Modernist County’ and ‘Arcadia for All’.

The Radical Essex site is designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Alex Rich, developed by Twelve.

Radical Essex is led by Focal Point Gallery in collaboration with Visit Essex and Firstsite. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England it forms part of the country wide Cultural Destinations programme, a partnership with VisitEngland, supporting arts organisations to work with the tourism sector to deliver projects that maximise the impact culture has on local economies.

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If you are a business or arts organisation interested to be involved in the project or learn more information, please contact us here

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our project partners: