One of the things that tickles me in the round of Council committee meetings I participate in each month is the plethora of different professions I am exposed to. Although my key interests on the council are on the transport / infrastructure side of things, I have made all sorts of forays into other bits. And every part of the council has its own special languages. Some of the words they use in reporting their work to councillors make me chuckle. Here are three recent examples
1 – “Dayburn”
Dayburn is how street lighting engineers refer to streetlights being on in the day. Street lighting is one small area of the Council that most people take for granted, until the light outside your house fails, flickers or is on in the day. At this time of year, hardworking councillors are out touring the streets in the dark noting down the numbers of failed lights.
If you live in Nottingham City and a light isn’t working – use this handy web form to report it to the Council. In my experience the emails you get from the website as a result of doing that are a little difficult to understand – but it does result in the light getting fixed within a few days. Don’t rely on other people to report it for you – some lights are out for weeks just because no-one reports it.
Nottingham is about to get a massive investment in streetlighting through a very long running PFI. Every street light will be replaced. The new ones will be much more energy efficient, resulting in more light for less power. They are changing the types of bulbs for ones which produce a whiter light, rather than the sodium orange we are all used to. The columns will all have the facility to be remotely controlled and remotely monitored, which should make “dayburn” a thing of the past. And it should be possible to dim them remotely and run them at less than 100% – although that facility will be used very carefully to make sure there are no knockon effects on crime.
2 – Sparge
Sparging is a fancy engineering word for cleaning, and when I first heard this word in a meeting about the district heating scheme, it nearly made me burst out laughing straight away. The person who said it dropped it into a sentence as if was the most ordinary word in the world and it was all I could do not to butt in and say, scuse me, did you just say “sparge” ? As it was, I made a note in a corner of a piece of paper and went home to look it up.
Nottingham has the largest district heating scheme in the UK, taking waste heat and steam from the incinerator and using it to heat thousands of homes in the St Anns area, as well as a huge number of municipal buildings and centres, including the Victoria Centre, the Broadmarsh centre, the Royal Centre and the Ice Arena. Steam is also supplied directly to Bio City where it runs the autoclaves and sterilising processes, and surplus steam is used to directly generate electricity. The scheme contributes to Nottingham’s success in generating its own energy.
But it’s not without controversy. The scheme has lost a lot of money in recent years, and the very idea of waste incineration is anathema to many environmental campaigners. My somewhat pragmatic view is that since the incinerator is there already, it’s much better to make use of the steam than not to. Tearing out the scheme and proving replacement heating systems for all the thousands of users would itself be an expensive thing to do that’s not in Nottingham’s interest.
3 – Dirty MRF (pronounced Merf to rhyme with smurf)
Waste management, one of the key roles for councils – in fact, bin collection is about the only completely universal service a council offers – has plenty of its own jargon, and key amongst those are the MRFs. It’s a phrase used so often that it’s now pronounceable as a word in its own right. A MRF is a materials recycling facility. If you have the sort of recycling bin where you mix up different types of recyclables, like card, glass and tins, the contents have to be taken to a MRF to sort them out. Clean MRFs sort out pre-sorted waste, but Dirty MRFs take a wider mix of waste, including kitchen and food waste, and sort out the reusable elements.
In Nottingham, our recycling bins are taken to a plant off the Colwick Loop Road where the lorries are emptied into huge piles which are shoveled onto a conveyor belt. The waste is sorted in a mix of automatic and manual ways – tins are removed and sorted magnetically, and then a small team of people hand sort the different sorts of plastic and paper. The tins are recycled into more tins. Some of the plastics are reused – milk bottles can easily become new milk bottles – but it is harder to find further uses for some other sorts of plastic. Some plastics are even recycled as fleecey coats! The paper and cardboard is taken a plant in the Netherlands where it is recycled as heavy board – the sort of board boardgames are made of, as well as the insides of lever arch files and the like.
I went on a trip to see the MRF at Colwick a few years ago and took a lot of photos I’ve never used or uploaded. I’ll pop ’em on Flickr and return to this topic another day.