(One of the tankers depositing the waste at a Thames Water sewage works)
While the thought of the contents of Reading Festival’s infamous toilets might make some people feel queasy, Thames Water’s sewer teams are relishing the prospect.
With hundreds of thousands of festival goers flocking to Richfield Avenue, Britain’s biggest water company has made special arrangements to deal with the site’s sewage – and to transform it into renewable energy.
Throughout the four-day event, tankers from the A1 Group which can carry up to 4,000 gallons of liquid will transport hundreds of thousands of litres of human waste to Reading Sewage works, from 6am until 10pm every day.
The waste is collected in a long-drop system, essentially a huge cesspit, and last year around 663,716 litres of waste – the equivalent of 830 bathtubs – was removed from the festival site.
Ian Ware, manager of Thames Water’s domestic waste services team which helps organise the removal of waste from the site, said: “Reading Festival is one of our biggest events, and the tanker teams will be hard at work throughout the long weekend to remove the waste and process it at our sewage works.
“Festival toilets are renowned for their bad smell, so if they weren’t emptied frequently the stench would be horrendous!
“This year promises to be one of the best yet, and we’ll do our bit to ensure it runs smoothly.”
As well as processing the waste, a special screening system has been developed to remove unusual items such as tents, sleeping bags, foil blankets and beer cans which are thrown into the cesspits by festival goers, to prevent them clogging up the sewage works.
After the waste is collected and processed, it is then transformed into renewable energy at the treatment plant, on Island Road, where gases are extracted from a by-product called sludge to generate electricity.
Last year, the waste collected from the festival produced enough energy to power 10 homes for a whole year.
Reading sewage works produces 50 per cent of all the electricity it uses, while across the company Thames Water self-generates 24 per cent of the power it needs from waste.
Angus Berry, energy manager at Thames Water, said: “To be a more sustainable and greener business, our focus is on generating more of our own renewable energy, using less of it and spending less, all of which will reduce our carbon footprint and keep costs down, which can only be positive news for our customers."
The company’s domestic waste services team processes around 700 megalitres – the equivalent of 280 Olympic swimming pools – from events such as festivals every year.
The largest event the company collects waste from is the Jalsa Salan Festival near Alton, which generates a huge 2.5 million litres of waste.
Below is one of the digester tankers used to process the waste.