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Reuse, recycle or sometimes simply burn?

Adrian Wilson

According to figures from the UK government-funded WRAP organisation, the country’s recycling industry is now worth an annual £3 billion and employs 40,000 people. Yet according to Bill Griffiths of Viridor – a leading recycling, renewable energy and waste management company – the country’s recycling rates have actually fallen consistently since 2007. It’s for this reason that difficult to handle technical textile-containing products such as carpets and mattresses are now being examined more closely for their potential.

12th July 2013

Adrian Wilson
 | 

Sustainable, Industrial, Transport/​Aerospace, Interiors, Medical/Hygiene

According to figures from the UK government-funded WRAP organisation, the country’s recycling industry is now worth an annual £3 billion and employs 40,000 people.

Yet according to Bill Griffiths of Viridor – a leading recycling, renewable energy and waste management company – the country’s recycling rates have actually fallen consistently since 2007. It’s for this reason that difficult to handle technical textile-containing products such as carpets and mattresses are now being examined more closely for their potential.

At the CRUK conference, the need to achieve a much higher percentage of reuse was emphasised. © Adrian Wilson

“Having invested around £20 million in recycling infrastructure and capacity, we now have to bring new products into the mix,” he said, speaking at the recent Carpet Recycling UK (CRUK) conference in Birmingham.

Each year, Viridor transforms over two million tons of materials into high quality recyclate, and yet more into over 760 gigawatt hours of renewable energy. In total it manages over eight million tons of recyclables and waste materials for customers from all sectors across the country.

But is incineration the answer? At the CRUK conference, the need to achieve a much higher percentage of reuse – particularly of valuable textile fibres – in addition to recycling into second life products, was emphasised.

CRUK’s 80+ members managed to divert 21.4% of the 400,000 tons of carpet waste produced in the UK in 2012 and are on course to hit a target of 25% by 2015. The 2020 target of 60%, however, may be harder to achieve with what are often complex composite products, but in 2008 just 2% of carpets were being recycled.

CRUK is seeking to get the reused content up to around 5% in the next few years. © Adrian Wilson

Co-ordinator Jane Gardner stressed the need to achieve the highest possible value for products which are recycled, since at present in the UK, only 1% of the diverted carpet is actually reused and 41% recycled – largely into equestrian surfaces – with the remainder being simply incinerated for energy recovery. CRUK is seeking to get the reused content up to around 5% in the next few years.

There are strong incentives for further progress, since the cost of landfilling in the UK will escalate to £80 per ton by 2014 and there is the more distant suggestion of a ban on the landfilling of textiles. The potential impact of this is currently being investigated by the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), but the organisation’s Natasha Smith said that any landfill ban was likely to arise as a result of European legislation, rather than be instigated by the UK government.

As far as fibres are concerned, around 202,000 tons of UK carpet waste is polypropylene based, 64,000 tons nylon, 62,000 tons wool and 47,000 tons mixed synthetics and fibre reprocessing is growing strongly.

In circulation

Katie McGuire of consultancy CO2 Sense stressed the need to differentiate between downcycling and and true reuse, and to stop technical and biological nutrients from being wasted.

“It’s about keeping materials in circulation and we must get away from the idea of doing ‘less bad’,” she said. “Consumer behaviour is key and we need to think in terms of services rather than products.”

Rudi Daelmans of Desso furthered this theme by suggesting that the linear economy, in taxing labour and not materials, is ultimately responsible for the culture of ‘take, make and dispose’ and that in a world of limitation, only those production processes demonstrating a material cycle are sustainable in the long term.

Katie McGuire of consultancy CO2 Sense stressed the need to differentiate between downcycling and and true reuse, and to stop technical and biological nutrients from being wasted. © Adrian Wilson

Since 2009, Desso has been operating its Refinity technology for carpet tiles which enables it to separate the yarn and other fibres from the carpet backing, producing material streams which can be recycled. Desso is also partnering with fellow Dutch technical textile producer Bonar with a view to developing new primary backings for Desso’s carpet products. Bonar has already been a preferred supplier for Desso for quite some time as the producer of Colback nonwovens for backings.

Another nonwovens manufacturer, the UK’s Anglo Recycling, based in Rochdale, is involved in a number of initiatives to reclaim the fibres from carpets, including a new partnership with John Lewis.

As part of its home furnishings offer, John Lewis stores stock a considerable range of carpets and provide comprehensive fitting services. The carpet fitting teams working for John Lewis in the Manchester area are now bagging up their carpet off-cuts and fitting waste which is collected and reprocessed into a new underlay by Anglo. This is then sold alongside the carpets in John Lewis stores.

Anglo also manufactures CrumbWool in association with Wools of New Zealand. This is another high grade carpet underlay made from recycled wool and with a backing of recycled tyres.

However, David Martin, MD of Thermitech Solutions, based in Gosport, made the case for selective incineration to energy.

A manufacturer of nonwovens for the footwear industry in the North East of England has just installed this company’s first evolved pyrolysis system designed to deal with the parts of a company’s waste stream that can’t be recycled or reused, by reprocessing them into gas, oil and heat.

“The aim is that the waste currently being incinerated or buried in landfill has to be reduced, but realistically, how?” © Adrian Wilson

Thermitech’s technology is designed to operate with feedstocks of typically between five hundred and a thousand tons a year.

“At this scale we’re looking at materials with high calorific value such as polypropylene and polyester, although the system is capable of handling all types of materials such as plastics, crumbed tyres, cardboard, wood and film,” he said. “The aim is that the waste currently being incinerated or buried in landfill has to be reduced, but realistically, how?” Martin asked. “While many items can now be recycled, how do we tackle those which cannot?

“We provide an environmentally sustainable method of reducing a variety of carbon-based waste which cannot currently be recycled and ends up incinerated or buried in landfill. Not only will it reduce the commercial waste problem which is costly to dispose of – both environmentally and financially – but it can also provide a valuable commodity in the form of either gas or electricity.”

And the photos from Viridor’s first mattress recycling point starkly illustrates what is being dealt with. It’s pretty difficult to see technical textiles of any value being recovered here, nor any alternative to incineration...

 

 

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