Recycling sectors focus on boosting performance

WRAP's major role in promoting markets for recyclable materials continues to be reinforced with targets being laid down across eight programmes: five material streams ( paper, plastics, glass, wood and aggregates) and three generic areas (procurement, financial mechanisms and standards and specifications). LAWE Editor Alexander Catto reviews recent developments under the WRAP aegis and reports on progress among industry sector organisations which are driving ahead to hit the UK's formidable recycling and waste minimisation targets

Glass recycling has been one of the most active sectors in recent months. British Glass, speaking for the UK's glass manufacturers has called for a new focus on increasing glass collection infrastructure after figures released by DEFRA showed minimal overall growth in glass recycling in 2002.

Figures released at the same time by British Glass show a fall in the amount of glass recycled back into new containers for the first time since 1977. Some 537,000 tonnes of glass were recycled into new containers in 2002, compared with 587,000 in 2001.

The glass industry says: "The decline in closed-loop recycling is solely due to increased competition for recycled glass from alternative markets. Glass traditionally used for container manufacture has been used, often with high levels of subsidy, to 'kick start' new markets." While conceding that this is important for long-term success, British Glass feels glass for alternative markets should come from additional collections.

In order to achieve the new European targets, British Glass is calling for better co-ordination of local authority and industry recycling targets, more government investment in recycling infrastructure, a rapid increase in Landfill Tax and a closer working relationship between industry, local authorities and legislators. Valpak has launched an initiative which should help to meet the glass industry's aims. The Producer Responsibility scheme has teamed up with Hastings Borough Council to buy 1,000 tonnes of mixed glass from the town's recycling banks every year. This will be reprocessed as aggregates for road building and can then be purchased back by the local authority at a reduced rate, for use in local building schemes.

The scheme is part of Valpak's commitment to developing and maintaining alternative end markets for green glass which will not be required by the container industry as more glass is collected.

Three reports published by WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) highlight the fast pace of growth in the UK's end markets for recycled glass and the scope for further development.

The newly updated version of WRAP's Recycled Glass Market Study and Standards Review (ISBN: 1-84405-049-1) assesses the primary and alternative markets for recycled glass and the quality requirements, specifications and current capacity for each application. The latest research indicates that in the 12-month period since the original report was carried out by Enviros, there has been considerable development in both low and high value markets for recycled glass, including shot blasting abrasives and concrete products. The report also highlights a number of higher value applications currently being developed following R&D funding from WRAP, including the establishment of an advanced production facility for filtration media for the drinking water treatment sector, and the use of fine glass powder as a fluxing agent in brick and sanitary-ware manufacture.

The second report, entitled Foam Glass Market Survey (ISBN: 1-84405-054-8) and prepared by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), focuses on the use of recycled glass in foam glass manufacture. Suitable for a number of construction applications, foam glass offers numerous beneficial characteristics, including low flammability, thermal stability and high chemical durability. As the manufacturing process is less sensitive to contamination levels than many other glass recycling applications, it offers the additional advantage of being able to absorb waste glass from sources such as the replacement window industry, end of life vehicles and cathode ray tubes.

Assessing the manufacturing infrastructure, production technology and market demand in the UK, the report concludes that there is significant potential for foam glass products and that investment in the transfer of existing technology from Europe presents the most economically viable way forward.

Waste Flat Glass from the Demolition and Replacement Window Industries (ISBN: 1-84405-053-X) is the title of the third report, also prepared by BRE. Commissioned to identify sources of waste flat glass and timber and PVC-U profiles that are suitable for collection and recycling, the research highlights the substantial quantities of glass and other materials that are currently being sent to landfill. In 2001, for example, 6.7 million window units were replaced in the domestic sector alone, generating 190,000 tonnes of waste.

The project involved close co-operation with industrial representatives, and one of the key findings is that, while schemes to recycle post-consumer flat glass and window profile waste are restricted to a few leading window companies, there are effective systems in place for process scrap generated during manufacture. The challenge will be to extend these activities to post-consumer waste and the demolition sector and the report recommends that assistance is given to these industries to establish a network of collection, storage and reprocessing facilities.

Plastics progress

A report has been published identifying the opportunities for improving plastics recycling in the UK by Waste Watch, in conjunction with Recoup and Vacuplast, and funded by Biffaward. Plastics in the UK economy - a guide to polymer use in recycling surveys UK manufacturing sector by sector. The report identifies the best opportunities to recycle plastics and introduce them into new manufacturing processes and can be viewed at

The major recommendations in the report are:

  • increase plastic bottle collections within integrated kerbside collections - this provides the best value for money method of significantly increasing UK plastics recycling
  • maximise the recycling of plastic packaging from commerce and industry
  • develop technologies for the efficient recycling of plastics from vehicles and electrical waste
  • develop a range of end markets for recovered plastics and promote public procurement
  • increase the cost of waste disposal by raising the Landfill Tax or introducing a general disposal tax

Other research published by WRAP has identified new recycling opportunities for plastics packaging waste generated by the chemical and steel industries. The first report, entitled Investigation of the Technical and Economic Viability of Recycling 25-litre Plastic Drums to Supply Process Chemistry to Metal Finishing Industries (ISBN: 1-84405-049-1), outlines the results of a study conducted by Intellect (the Information Technology, Telecommunications & Electronics Association). The work was carried out in collaboration with Shipley Europe Ltd, a producer of a wide range of chemical processes for the printed circuit board (PCB) and metal finishing industries.

The research identifies viable recycling pathways for the spent containers and a number of applications for the recyclate. Details of a successful pilot trial to recycle the drums into sub-soil drainage pipes, conducted at Shipley's Coventry facility in collaboration with Delleve Plastics Ltd, are also included.

While the report concludes that it is not economically feasible to recycle drums generated by the PCB and metal finishing industries alone, it recommends a further larger scale recycling trial involving chemical suppliers who use them in high volumes to investigate the viability of schemes to take back and recycle the drums. The second report, Research into using Recycled Mixed Plastics/Fibreglass to Produce Coil Carriers for the Steel Industry (ISBN: 1-84405-058-0), assesses the suitability of a composite material, made from recycled mixed waste plastics and waste fibreglass, as an alternative to wood for the construction of a range of carriers for the steel industry. The research was undertaken by Intruplas, a not-for-profit plastics recycling company, in collaboration with steel industry partner AvestaPolarit.

Newsprint recycling

EU state aid clearance for a £17 million grant for a North Wales scheme costing a total project cost of £120 million has been hailed as a "major boost" for newspaper recycling. The conversion of UPM-Kymmene's Shotton paper mill to use 100% recycled fibre will increase UK newspaper recycling capacity and newspapers and magazines to be collected from an additional four million households.

Jennie Price, Chief Executive of WRAP, welcomed the announcement by the European Commission. "We are very pleased that financial aid for this major recycling scheme has now been given the green light by Brussels. Over the next five years this will mean that over 1.6 million tonnes of newspapers and magazines will be diverted from landfill and used to make a new product of the highest quality. This project will be good for recycling, good for the economy and good for the environment."

Looking at the overall picture, in its final Annual Review 2002, before being fully integrated into the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), the Paper Federation of Great Britain said that while recovered paper was doing well, there was room for improvement. Many mills contribute significantly to the UK's recycling performance, using recovered paper at a rate of 74%, one of the highest in Europe. The Review notes: "On the other hand, the collection rate, which rose to 47.8% in 2002, is still near the bottom of the European league, even allowing for the non-recoverable elements of the UK's consumption volume available for recovery from the waste stream. This includes large amounts of packaging goods from increasing volumes of imported goods."

The CPI has welcomed many of the recommendations proposed in the latest report on Packaging Regulations produced by the Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), in particular the call for a study to be undertaken by DEFRA to establish the best economic solutions for kerbside collections of packaging waste. In order to meet tight customer specifications, CPI says it is imperative that paper board packaging is not contaminated through contact with other materials.

Metals markets

In the metals recycling sector the European Copper Institute, reporting that almost 45% of all the copper used in Europe is from recycled sources, says that copper, which is 100% recyclable, is emerging increasingly as "the recycling champion." The President of the Non-Ferrous Division of the Bureau of International Recycling, Marc Natan, said: "The positive effects of copper on the environment are not limited to the preservation of raw materials and waste reduction. The production of recycled copper saves 85% of the energy used in the primary production of copper, thereby reducing the emission of recycled gases."

On the aluminium recycling front, Alcan Aluminium Can Recycling's plans to help increase the UK recycling rate for aluminium packaging from 34% to 50% by 2006/7 includes the setting up of 31 new "cash for cans" dealers as part of the expansion of the network of aluminium can recycling centres in the UK.

Also under way is a year-long initiative aimed at local authorities and community recyclers by the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro). The "get recycling" scheme, seeking the participation of the public, involves planting a tree for every tonne of aluminium recycled and Alupro expects that 35,000 trees will be planted across the UK.

Aerosol recycling

BAMA, the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association, says: "Aerosol recycling has finally taken off in the UK after many years of struggling to get off the ground." Research undertaken by BAMA has shown that around half of local authorities throughout the UK have now added empty aerosols to their recycling schemes, following the opening up of a market for recovered aluminium aerosols.

Derwentside District Council in the north-east of England is cited by the BAMA as a good example of how a forward-looking local authority has been able to successfully introduce empty aerosols into the waste stream of its new high-tech recycling scheme.

Launched in mid-January of this year, the council's kerbside recycling scheme is funded through a grant of £700,000 from the Government's £140 million national waste minimisation and recycling fund. It is run under the name of the West Durham Recycling in association with two other councils - Teesdale District Council and Wear Valley District Council - and Foreman Recycling Ltd of Spennymoor, County Durham.

The West Durham kerbside scheme reaches a total of 80,000 households, each of which is supplied with a green recycling box (used for collecting paper, card, cans and glass) that is fitted with a unique barcode which is scanned using equipment mounted on all of the collection vehicles. It is believed that this is the first time that this type of electronic monitoring has been attempted on a kerbside recycling scheme in the UK on such a large scale. It will ensure that the councils can closely monitor participation and contamination levels and thereby target education and awareness campaigns more directly, enabling increased quality and quantity of materials collected.

Following the initial success of the new scheme, Derwentside District Council decided to investigate the possibilities of adding empty aerosol cans to its kerbside collections. As Derwentside's recycling officer Eric Bell explained: "We had realised for some time that metal recycling could be significantly improved if aerosol cans could be included in our collections, but we were put off by concerns about health and safety issues. We firstly researched a number of recycling advice websites, such as the one run by BAMA, and were advised to mix aerosol cans with other food and drink can collections as the best way to eliminate any potential problems."

The next step was to contact Foreman Recycling, the scheme's commercial contractor, to confirm that the company's MRF (Material Recycling Facility) could handle the aerosols. Foreman Recycling started its recycling operations in late 1999 and the company now handles between 1,500 and 2,000 tonnes of valuable waste products each month which is collected from hundreds of companies and several local councils in the north-east. About 10 % of the waste products comprises metal, which is specially sorted into two main categories of steel and aluminium.

A few months after the launch of its new "green box" kerbside collections, Derwentside District Council publicised the introduction of empty aerosols into its recycling scheme through local press publicity and information leaflets delivered to approximately 39,000 households in the area. Empty aerosol cans were officially accepted into the scheme in March of this year and since then the response from the public has been very good.

The latest figures from Derwentside indicate that the average monthly tonnage of mixed cans collected has doubled since the introduction of the green box and the inclusion of empty aerosols for recycling.

Safety guidance

On the health and safety front new guidance on reducing exposure to dioxins in aluminium recycling work has been published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The free guidance leaflet, How to reduce exposure to dioxins in aluminium recycling, explains what dioxins are, how they are formed during metal recycling and how they enter the body. Usefully it points out simple measures which will reduce the potential for their formation and how exposure can be minimised.

This leaflet is in response to the Health and Safety Commission's Advisory Committee on Toxic Substances' (ACTS) whose experts recommended that guidance be targeted at industries with the highest potential for dioxin exposure.

The ACTS recommendation followed two HSE sampling surveys at sites across the UK. A range of industry sectors were sampled, but the highest exposures were found during aluminium recycling. As a result ACTS recommended the production of this guidance as one of a range of actions to reduce dioxin exposure from work-related activities.

Dr Colin Davy from HSE's Occupational Hygiene Unit explained: "Although the potential for dioxin formation exists in any combustion process where organic material is burned, minor modifications to work practices can significantly reduce any exposure.

" This guidance, although aimed at aluminium recyclers also contains information relevant to any metal recycler. The information should be useful to employees, employers, trade union representatives and safety representatives." Free copies are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA, tel: 01787-881165 or fax: 01787-313995.

Roads and aggregates

Recycling is playing a growing role in construction where the Environment Agency recently showed the industry what was possible with the announcement of significant waste reductions and reuse of materials in its flood defence capital programme during 2001-02.

The Agency reports that responsible environmental management of flood defence works during 2001-02 avoided the need to quarry over 560,000m3 of virgin aggregates and reduced waste going to landfill by an average 40%.

WRAP has been involved in another example where Leicester based Power Plane Ltd has successfully tendered for capital grant funding from WRAP aimed at increasing the production and use of recycled and secondary aggregates. The company, which specialises in road surface repair and replacement, has been awarded a grant totalling £166,484 to bring its innovative base course and binder course technology, using up to 80% recycled material, to full-scale production.

The first element will support the purchase of a new Wirtgen KMA 200 Foamed Bitumen Plane and purpose designed cement silo and other ancillary equipment. Using the new plant, Power Plane Ltd will mix recycled asphalt planings (RAP) with other materials, including cement and bitumen, to form a material that can be used as base and binder courses.

Ian Chattington, Managing Director, Power Plane Ltd, said: "We are confident that we now have a cost effective recycled alternative for base and binder course materials. Using this technology, we can show councils and contractors that road repairs can be carried out in a much shorter time, with no loss of performance, while at the same time demonstrating a more sustainable approach to resource use. We are very encouraged by the initial trials and fully expect to apply the process on a significant scale in the near future. Power Plane is also already exploring the potential use of the recycled material in sectors other than road construction and repair."

WEEE and fridge recycling

Electronic and electrical equipment waste, covered by the WEEE Directive, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU and has stimulated an equally huge increase in facilities to dismantle and recycle the material.. It is estimated that over 200,000 tonnes per annum of WEEE will arise from households alone. WEEE is also one of the largest known sources of heavy metals and organic pollutants in municipal waste.

Coupled with the continuing demand to handle discarded white goods, such as refrigerators, and the imminent requirement under the ELV regime to deal with redundant vehicles, and the banning of the disposal of tyres to landfill, the recycling sector is gearing up for a huge expansion in new forms of business with a high-tech content.

EU policymaking remains the driving force behind waste minimisation targets within member states and the UK in particular. How EU policy will be but into place remains an issue which Dirk Hazell of the ESA addressed at a recent Waste Day held by manufacturer JCB at the company's base in Rocester.

The ESA Chief Executive raised the question as to whether recycling targets should be applied across the European Union as a whole or whether individual Member States should have individual targets.

"In our view," Mr Hazell said, " it is essential to achieve a level playing field across the EU and the Accession Countries will face a particular challenge in complying with the EU's environmental laws. We believe the best way to achieve an acceptable result in this context is for individual Member States to be set individual recycling targets but for Member States to be allowed to trade deficits and surpluses on these targets."



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