Last week, a BBC news programme visited a new recycling plant
at Hemswell in Lincolnshire. With wars, violent revolution and doom and gloom stories all around, this was a welcome respite.
The plant was said to be the largest in the world, and was given the official stamp of approval when it was opened by Lord Taylor of Holbeach. (No, not Lord Fraud
! This Lord Taylor
is Minister for the Environment).
Posing with him in the above photograph are Peter Gansted of ECO Plastics (with the orange tie), and Stephen Moorhouse of Coca-Cola Enterprises.
Plastic is part of our daily lives, but in the wrong place it can be a nightmare. To all practical purposes it is indestructible, and that means mega-problems when it comes to disposing of it. Britain is rapidly running out of landfill sites, which are by no means cheap in any case, so a company that takes the damned stuff, crunches it up, and turns it into something useful is - like hydrogen cars
- taking the first step towards creating a cleaner and greener world for us all.
A description of the actual process can be found here
. Meanwhile, we caught up with Oliver Williams of ECO's press office, and he relayed a few questions to Jonathan Short, Managing Director of the company.
AB: Is your new plant really the largest of its kind in the world?
Jonathan Short: Yes. There have been reports of a plant in California that can recycle 2 billion bottles a year, but as our expansion takes us to 150,000 tonnes, or 3 billion bottles a year, we’re confident that we take the title.
AB: I gather this project has been some time in the making. Whose idea was it?
JS: The project has been over two years in the making. It started as a result of Coca-Cola Enterprises' desire to improve the sustainability of its products, specifically its packaging. The business had committed to reducing the carbon footprint of its bottles by a third, so was looking for a reliable and high quality source of domestic recycled Polyethylen-terephthalat which it could use to deliver this goal. As only limited amounts of rPET were produced in the UK at the time, it decided to work with my business, ECO Plastics (already responsible for the majority of the UK’s rPET production), to set up a dedicated facility to help deliver this goal.
AB: Have you received any assistance from the government, tax breaks, etc? If not, why not?
JS: ECO Plastics has never requested any subsidy, nor been given one. We believe it’s imperative that businesses are able to stand on their own feet and are not reliant on government support for survival.
[Royal Bank of Scotland, take note!]
AB: How many people do you employ at the plant?
JS: One hundred and seventy.
AB: You both purchase and sell material. Your terms for purchasing are fairly rigid, which presumably rules out small shops and the like. How much business are you doing at the moment?
JS: We are gradually ramping up capacity as the new facility comes online. In April, we processed 10,000 tonnes and will increase this to 12,500 tonnes per month by the end of the year. Over twelve months that’s a total of 150,000 tonnes.
AB: How much do you pay for rubbish, and what do you actually sell and to whom?
JS: The value of our raw material is anything from a small gate fee to £200 per ton for good quality UK feedstock.
AB: In Britain, most waste is collected by local authorities, who have a duty to dispose of it. Rather than you buying waste from them, which will only end up in landfill or being burnt, why shouldn't they deliver it at cost?
JS: The major issue here is quality of the waste stream. Re-processors are reliant on receiving quality waste with a high percentage of the most valuable materials, in our case plastic bottles. As co-mingled collection has become more popular this has become a major problem; the industry is finding increasing amounts of contaminant, which can’t be recycled in the waste stream. For instance, at ECO Plastics we have seen a drop of 20% in the number of plastic bottles coming through their doors in recent years, whilst at the same time black plastic trays (non-recyclable) have increased from virtually zero to 7%. So, re-processors will frequently pay for feedstock that they know has been well sorted and is high quality, rather than accepting lower quality cheaper materials.
[High quality waste? Strange but true!]
AB: Do you deal with supermarket chains, major stores, etc?
JS: Historically we have worked primarily with major beverage brands such as Coca-Cola Enterprises. However, retailers are waking to the opportunities from dealing with us directly and we are talking to the more forward thinking companies.
AB: Do you plan to open further plants in Britain or elsewhere?
JS: The focus at the moment is on getting the extension up-to-speed, however, eventually we may look at building further plants in the UK. Over 50% of the UK’s plastic bottles are uncollected, so there is plenty of resource untapped. We view Europe as being ripe for consolidation while the main brands are targeting the BRIC nations as areas of high growth. With the same sustainability goals then there are clear opportunities here also.
[BRIC nations refers to Brazil, Russia, India and China. China has been much in the news of late, and has enormous problems with both waste disposal and pollution. Recently, Brazil overtook the UK and is now the world's 6th largest economy. Clearly, there are massive opportunities here for ECO and companies like it].
AB: Plastic is an enormous problem for the environment, including for the coast. Do you intend or would you be prepared to consider taking smaller quantities of material and things like plastic bags that have been collected by green activists if they were properly packaged?
JS: The full list of material that ECO Plastics handles is on our website. We don’t accept plastic bags but we believe this material offers an opportunity for the large retailers to assist in collecting plastic waste; this will not only recover a valuable resource but also help to reduce the amount of such material being disposed of via the household recycling bin.
AB: Have you been working with environmentalist or other organisations?
JS: We are not partnering directly with any at present, however, we do engage with them regularly, and several were present at the opening event last week. We also held a briefing with a Government Minister at the end of last year at which senior Non-Governmental Organisation representatives were present.
AB: What can the government, local authorities, companies and all the rest of use do to build on this?
JS: The main thing that’s needed is a consumer awareness campaign to ensure that people understand exactly what can and can’t be recycled. At present, there is too much uncertainty amongst consumers and as a result, a lack of confidence that the system actually works. The recycling system in the UK is complicated by the fact that different areas have equipment with different levels of technical sophistication so are able to process different materials, however, there are still certain universal fundamentals. All plastic bottles should be recycled, never put a black plastic meal tray in the recycling bin. Government should make sure that people understand these.
AB: Jonathan Short, thank you very much.
JS: Thank you.