Creating a more sustainable prison service at HMP Holme House

Written by: Greg Rhodes | Published:
HMP Holme House generates several recyclable waste streams that include kitchen waste cardboard, paper, plastics, cans, clothing, mattresses, metal and wood

Her Majesty’s Prison Service has pledged to optimise waste management efficiency across its estate.

In Stockton, Cleveland, HMP Holme House epitomises the efforts and processes the government department is putting in place to handle a host of waste streams in ways that encourage sustainability.

The prison’s waste management processes are handled by the Waste Management Unit (WMU), which falls under the broader remit of Land Based Activities (LBA).

The unit practises the waste hierarchy methodology under its mission to recover and reuse the maximum possible. WMU’s lynchpin is recycling instructor Terry Mallerby, who co-ordinates day-to-day running and is tasked with supervision and training of prisoners seconded to this increasingly important aspect of Holme House’s functioning.

“We collect anything from anywhere on the 54-acre site,” says Mallerby, who came here 14 years ago from a post in the chemical industry on nearby Teesside. His assistants, Colin Steer, here a year, and Derek Pears, five years in post, collect waste before the WMU processes it for shipment off site.

Helping each of them is a posse of prisoners trained up for the task and providing key support for the waste management operation. “I look after four or five lads with me in the unit," says Mallerby, "while Colin and Derek manage another 10 between them as they pick up waste from the various sections and departments. They all enjoy coming down to the unit as they are working outdoors at a job that keeps them busy.”

Prisoners face three options for a job when they arrive: the Industries Department, which includes the extensive woodworking section; academic work; or Land Based Activities, embracing the WMU and Garden Services, responsible for groundcare and horticulture.

Those who choose LBA have two weeks’ induction, when they can see if the work, pretty much all outdoors, is for them. “We or they can decide if they are suitable,” Mallerby says.

The initial half-day induction that Mallerby takes with the prisoners is designed to teach those working in the WMU how to operate its sorting and processing machines. “Safety is critical, of course,” he stresses, “and we induct the lads in how to operate everything with minimum risk.”

They are trained on three key machines, he explains – a small cardboard baler, a larger version and a paper shredder. “Once waste is baled up, we send it off site to a company that pays us for cardboard, shredded paper and scrap.

“The whole process is designed to put the lads in purposeful activity and to give them a practical qualification. After they complete the induction programme, they can progress further, working towards achieving a qualification in City & Guilds, Q9221 Level 2 certificate in Sustainable Waste Management.”

Completing the qualification takes them around six months, Mallerby adds. “It’s all about on-the-job training and a little written work in-cell or within the WMU.” A new purpose-built, wooden chalet-style classroom has boosted the learning space and environment for prisoners’ educational pursuits.

With operational capacity for 1,210 prisoners, Category C Holme House opened in 1992 and generates several recyclable waste streams that include kitchen waste cardboard, paper, plastics, cans, clothing, mattresses, metal and wood.

“All items that can be recovered and recycled are sorted to minimise the quantity of waste sent to landfill,” explains Jeff Wingfield, the WMU’s Land Based Activities/waste environmental manager.

The Industries department produces furniture items for the internal market. “The manufacturing process generates a range of waste wood,” adds Wingfield, “such as hard- and softwood, MFC and MDF.

“We minimise waste in production by using industry-standard woodworking CNC machines. These have yield-optimising programmes to boost output and maximise production, while minimising waste.

“What’s left is recycled and sent to a waste transfer station, operated by waste management operator Veolia, which maintains a ‘zero to landfill’ policy and collects from the unit weekly."

The textile and laundry departments, which run industrial-scale washing and treatment facilities, also contribute to the recycling function, Wingfield explains. “Any prisoner clothing that cannot be repaired and that fails quality requirements when being laundered is returned to the WMU for recycling.

“The textiles workshop produces clothing and bedding for our internal market. Any offcuts generated during the process are also recycled and dispatched to a textile recycling company.”

Holme House’s kitchen generates various waste streams including plastic packaging and food containers, metal food cans and cardboard packaging, while the stores generate everything from pallets and shrink wrapping to cardboard to printer cartridges. “Our mill-size bailer compresses all recoverable items before processing,” Wingfield says.

Team effort

But Holme House is no ‘island’ and collaborates with local companies, which can take the waste processing function further. “We work in partnership with Total Recycling Services of Darlington,” Wingfield explains.

“I have a good working relationship with Sue Woodward there, who has assisted us with logistics and infrastructure, due to our security implications. Her help, advice and guidance helps the whole process run effectively and efficiently. If external contractors have to come on site, the unit works with and supervises them while they are here.”

Wingfield is no stranger to working in land-based activities sections of HM Prison Service – Holme House is his third site – and likes everything to run like clockwork.

In what is a diverse and demanding role, he says: “I manage the resources required for the delivery of waste management and environmental services to ensure we meet or exceed National Offender Management Services (NOMS) standards.

“We also have to comply with the Service Delivery Agreement responsible for ensuring the correct processes for collection, disposal and recycling of waste are undertaken within agreed timescales, including hazardous materials.”

He is also tasked with sourcing “best value outcomes” for all material streams including non-value waste and recyclable commodities such as paper, metals, oils and plastics.

Wingfield is the WMU’s figures man. “It’s my job to ensure all waste materials removed from site are recorded in terms of weights, costs and revenues.”

Disposal methods for office and electrical products come under his remit as well, as does managing and directing WMU staff on appropriate processes for doing this. In short, “I aim to encourage and provide general advice and guidance on how to manage waste more effectively”.

The WMU service delivers income generation for Holme House and reduces landfill disposal costs, Wingfield adds. “Mattresses are replaced when required and used, or damaged ones find their way back to the prison service Supply and Transport Stores, who then recycle them with an outside agency, which uses them for insulation.

“The considerable quantity of waste electrical equipment that the prison generates is all processed and disposed of by a company within our central government contract with broker UKWSL, which collates and arranges collections from each establishment.”

Sustainability drive

As a government department, the Prison Service is driven by a policy on sustainability, and Holme House works within that remit. “The procurement department is responsible for purchasing goods and takes factors such as single-use plastic content into account when acquiring them,” says Wingfield.

Working to key performance indicators, the service is currently aiming for 80% recycling overall. “Holme House has achieved that target,” Wingfield confirms, “and we are working hard to increase the percentage.”

Stripping down electrical equipment into its various components, a process just introduced, may well further boost the recycling rate, he believes.

Also, strategies for becoming carbon neutral are in place, "but at a much higher level from headquarters in London, which factor in all options when designing and planning future expansions and developments within the service”.

Sounds like Holme House is doing all it can to process and recycle waste efficiently. Does the WMU face any challenges? “Our major one is to manage a building that’s fit for purpose,” Wingfield reveals.

“The current one is too small, does not allow for expansion and we also have an issue with storing recycled goods. In an effort to ease things, a funding bid has been lodged for a multi-purpose storage and processing building.”

When re-offending can hang like a spectre over prisoners’ lives, does the WMU team feel the mission to rehabilitate inmates through productive pursuits in Land Based Activities brings results?

“We’ve had cases recently where prisoners have gained a job with local waste management companies on their release,” Mallerby discloses. “News like that makes our jobs worth all the effort.”

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