Demanufacturing could become the new manufacturing
24 March 2005, News release from Faversham House Group
As well as being taught the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, schoolchildren nowadays learn new three Rs: reduce waste, re-use and recycle. But now there is a fourth 'R' that manufacturers must learn: re-design.
Companies that produce cars, fridges, PCs and a whole range of other goods must improve their designs to accommodate environmentally friendly disposal at the end of the product's lifetime.
Taking an old fridge to a local tip is no longer an option. Environmentally friendly disposal dictates that harmful coolants must be removed and recyclable materials recovered. This applies to a vast range of products, from worn-out tyres to the humble hairdryer.
Waste from all sources has increased dramatically over recent decades, and both hazardous and non-hazardous wastes present risks to the environment. The environmental impacts most closely linked to waste include methane emissions from landfill sites contributing to global warming, pollution of ground and surface water, soil contamination, odour and noise from waste transport.
Driven by a desire to minimise these environmental impacts, the EU set out its strategy for waste management, which focused on waste prevention, re-use, promotion of recovery and minimisation of final disposal. The consequent Directives reflect a change of tack by the EU, shifting responsibility of waste disposal on the producers of such equipment, rectifying environmental damage at the source and making the polluter pay.
The 1999 Landfill Directive banned, amongst other things, sending tyres to landfill and the disposal of hazardous waste without prior treatment. The 2000 End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive requires, among other demands, that certain vehicle components are marked to aid recovery and recycling, and that information is provided to facilitate dismantling. The 2002 Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), due to be implemented in the UK this year, is expected to have particularly far-reaching implications for manufacturers.
The Directive encourages and sets the criteria for the collection, treatment recycling and recovery of a huge spectrum of waste electrical equipment and will affect an estimated 30,000 companies in the UK making or selling almost anything with a plug or a battery. That is, any business that manufactures, brands or imports electrical or electronic products within the EU as well as any business that sells, stores, treats, dismantles such products.
Household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment, audiovisual and lighting equipment, electrical and electronic tools and toys, leisure and sports equipment, medical devices, automatic dispensers, control and monitoring equipment are all covered by the Directive and will have to go through an 'end-of-life' process to ensure 75% by weight is recycled.
But what is of greatest significance for industry is that the Directive places responsibility for financing recycling on producers and manufacturers, while private consumers are to be able to return WEEE without charge. It is hoped this responsibility will push manufacturers towards re-designing products to facilitate recycling.
As WEEE is the fastest growing form of waste across the western world, its recycling can create significant business opportunities. UK households throw away about one million tonnes of electrical goods per year - and the WEEE Directive sets a target of recycling 4kg of electrical goods per person per year by December 2006. But according to Stewart Ward, of DARP Environmental Consultancy, the UK could lose its opportunity to benefit from the WEEE Directive if it does not develop its own solutions, because WEEE will be exported for treatment along with the income derived from the process.
A crisis developed when an EU regulation on the removal of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment came into effect. There were insufficient recycling facilities to remove harmful gases from the thousands of freezers and fridges discarded by UK householders and caterers every week.
"The problems that occurred with fridges can be avoided with WEEE if we act to put vital infrastructure in place now," says Stewart Ward, who points out that the problem is not with the concept of producer responsibility for WEEE, but with the infrastructure that is urgently needed. "We need a network of central collection points where consumers can take their used electrical equipment,' he says. "People will not want to return each item to a manufacturer's dedicated return centre."
DARP Environmental Consultancy is convinced that demanufacturing - the process of removing glass, ferrous, non-ferrous and precious metals and plastics from end-of-life goods - offers plenty of business opportunities for UK entrepreneurs. It could fill some of the gap created by the shrinkage of manufacturing in recent years and encourage the development of clean, environmental technology, as will be discussed at this year's Environmental Technology and Management Services Exhibition and Conference (ET2005, www.et-expo.co.uk, from the 24 to 26 May at the NEC).
For the first time this year, Kyocera Mita will be hosting its Green Card conference alongside ET at the NEC, and will bring together speakers from private (such as Toyota and Barclays) and public sectors to discuss practical solutions and case studies on the WEEE Directive. Meanwhile, ET2005, designed to promote dialogue and innovation in the environmental technology sector, provides a platform to share capabilities and explore the opportunities inherent in solving legislative and environmental challenges.
We could take inspiration from the Swiss, who have opened what is claimed to be Europe's first fully-automated plant for demanufacturing old refrigerators and freezers. Old appliances arriving at the site at Altdorf are fed straight from the truck into the first stage of processing, where coolants are drained off. Automated conveyors then move a steady stream of drained appliances into the final processing stage. Appliances containing glass wool or polystyrene insulation are automatically identified and transferred to a shredder for further processing.
We could also learn from motor manufacturer BMW whose vehicles are the product of a comprehensive and long term recycling concept. Recycling requirements are taken into account right from the initial design and development of each vehicle.
While recycling in the UK has reached its 17% target as a national average, this varies wildly across the regions and still places the UK behind its European neighbours. Opportunities were lost when fridges in Greater Manchester were sent to Germany for treatment and are still being lost when one in 3 of recovered glass bottles is exported for recycling despite the fact that every tonne of glass that is recycled saves more than a tonne of raw materials. Meanwhile, the UK aluminium recycling industry is importing aluminium to satisfy demand. Process capacity to demanufacture and recycle in the UK is clearly lacking.
As Stewart Ward points out: "We have very little manufacturing capacity left - it would be a shame if we never get the chance to develop our de-manufacturing industry."
o Reducing environmental impacts and associated costs will be a focus of attention at ET 2005, the UK's leading environmental technology and management services exhibition which is at the NEC on 24-26th May. Registration is available now online (www.et-expo.co.uk) or call the ticket hotline for free tickets on 0870 443 6089. Log onto www.et-expo.co.uk for further information, or call John Taylor on 01332 694 532.
For further information please email Faversham House Group