Processing plants line up to tackle ‘fridge mountain’

Waste management, recycling and metal reprocessors are investing in new plants up and down the land to win a share of the massive market that is quite literally piling up to form “fridge mountains” that are posing a huge problem for local authorities. LAWE reviews recent developments that offer much needed solutions.

The RICS has estimated that Britain throws away about 6,500 unwanted refrigerators a day, with huge cost implications for local authorities, not least in dealing with abandoned appliances which are adding to the growing scourge of flytipping.

Last year, however, saw a big upsurge of activity among local authorities, and most significantly, by the waste management, recycling and metals processing industries, involving major investment in new plant which should go a long way to reducing the accumulated backlog of old fridges and other white goods and which should also offer a longer term solution to this big headache for the town halls and Whitehall alike.

In North Yorkshire, Yorwaste Ltd, offers a recent example of how the industry is finally getting its act together to deal effectively with this headline-grabbing problem. The waste management company signed an agreement in December with P&O Closed Loop Logistics to deal with its stockpile of obsolete fridges and freezers. There are currently around 29,000 fridges being stored at a Yorwaste storage facility at Hessay, near York, but, as part of the deal, the appliances are now being taken to a new fridge recycling plant in Teesside. Hundreds of fridges are being sent every day to the P&O Closed Loop Logistics plant on the Cowpen Industrial Estate in Billingham. The old fridges and freezers will be shredded by a special machine that removes all harmful CFC gases and recycles components such as glass, metal and plastic.

Yorwaste will continue to collect and distribute unwanted fridges from its various household waste sites in North Yorkshire and take them to Hessay for despatch.

Range of solutions

Other major players in the fridge disposal market, which requires the disposal of an estimated 2.5 million refrigerators a year, include M Baker Recycling Ltd which operates a fridge recycling plant at St Helens, Merseyside, where a machine has been installed by Erdwich Vetrebe GmbH of Germany, a specialist in disintegration technology.

The machine is capable of recycling 60 refigerators per hour when running at full capacity. It fully separates elements of plastics, metals and CFCs contained within the foam insulants between the inner and outer casings, with no landfill requirement for the elements produced.

Part of the Michael Baker group of companies, M Baker Recycling Ltd was established as a separate subsidiary company, specifically and solely to develop the services of local authorities for the collection, storage, transport and recycling of end-of-life refrigerators and freezers, including the safe destruction of residuals using approved technology. The company has a number of long-term contracts with local authorities and is planning to locate other plants in other geographical areas – Scotland, Ireland. Midlands, South Wales/West Country and the South East.

Another large operator in the fridge recycling market is EMR, one of the world’s leading recycling companies, which handles over 8.5 million tonnes of scrap metal a year at 65 sites, predominantly in the UK.

A £2.5 million purpose-built facility, stated to be amongst the biggest in Europe, has sufficient capacity to handle the estimated 300,000 fridges discarded by Londoners each year. The plant, in north west London, will also process industrial units. The installation mark another major development at EMR Willesden, which already included a conventional shredder, rail links and an integrated vehicle depollution facility.

The MeWA recycling process being used involves granulating whole fridges in the sealed compartment of a cross-flow shredder.

Inert nitrogen gas is added to suppress the potential danger of an explosion as ozone depleting gases are captured and contained. Next the foam chunks are dried to reduce water content, ground to <0.2mm diameter and heated to liberate the remaining gases from the pores. Gases are collected using cry-condensation and destroyed by high temperature incineration.

Air cyclones, magnets and eddy-current technology are employed to separate the various material fractions of steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, glass and a copper-aluminium mix.

EMR is also installing a specialist fridge recycling facility at Darlaston in the West Midlands to handle an additional 300,00 fridges a year and hopes to secure sufficient contracted volumes of fridges to install a third plant in the North of England during this year.

The company handles fridges for several London boroughs and other local authorities across the country plus contracts with waste management services groups, such as Waste Recycling Group, SITA and Biffa.

Other fridge recycling facilities coming on stream during last year include the Sims Metal MeWA “Hurricane” fridge recycling plant at Newport, South Wales, where customers include Dorset County Council. Not all the county’s unwanted appliances go for dismantling – local contractor, Coopers Wholesale of Dorchester refurbishes about 20% for sale in this country and abroad.

In Scotland, local businessman Simon Howie, is tackling the fridge mountain with a new plant in Perth, where Commercial Director, Malcolm Todd, said: “We are collecting fridges from many councils and other customers throughout Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, and we look forward to serving more.”

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