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Adopting ‘Norwegian Proposal’ would benefit European plastics recyclers

Adopting Norway’s proposal to amend a global agreement on rules for exporting mixed plastic waste would benefit European plastics recyclers and lead to more investment in infrastructure.

Axion welcomes the proposed changes to the Basel Convention that would set strict quality specifications about exports, saying these would ‘raise the fence’ to prevent export of low-grade materials and ‘force the UK to take responsibility for its own plastic waste’.

The Basel Convention has 187 signatory countries, including the UK, that have signed up to legislation governing the classifications and export of hazardous wastes around the world. Individual countries, however, can dictate their own rules for the classification of waste for import purposes.

Last year, amid concerns over exports of poorly-segregated waste plastics to the Far East/non-OECD countries and ocean plastics, Norway put forward an amendment to the B3010 ‘Green list’ to restrict shipments to higher-quality, single polymer materials. B3010 dictates what types of plastics can be exported and there are stringent rules about material specification to be included on the list. Any mixed plastics bales that fail to meet the strict B3010 quality standard will automatically fall under a system of ‘pre-informed consent’ and be managed in a similar way to hazardous waste shipments.

The amendment would mean that bales of rigid mixed plastic, for example, which are usually very low-quality material, would no longer be acceptable for widespread export. The UK currently exports significant quantities of this material. The proposal also calls for the restriction of these exports to EU/OECD countries.

If the Norway proposal is adopted by the Basel Conference of the Parties (CoP) at the end of April, it will become law within six months and signatories will have to enact their own laws by the end of the year.

Axion’s Associate Consultant Keith Freegard welcomed the proposal, saying: “It will clean up waste packaging flows – a major cause of ocean plastics – by setting strict quality specifications for exports and clearly put pressure on the waste and recycling sector to raise processing standards.”

However, he expressed concern that the timeframe is not long enough to boost the installed UK capacity for WEEE, ELV and packaging recycling. It will take several years to build new infrastructure, so the UK waste industry will need a managed ramp-down in the proportion of waste plastics being sent for overseas recycling.

“The best place to get a sustainable, resource-efficient and low-risk material supply is from our own recycling infrastructure. And that means delivering good quality material back to the packaging producers. Money raised from PRN system reforms should be invested in the recycling infrastructure to ensure it delivers the quality of material required.”

While Keith suggested a shift from an export-dependent position to a more self-sufficient, technical-based recycling system would be ‘painful for some’, he added: “If we don’t have that push, we’re always going to be stuck where we are relying on cheap exports.

Laura Smith, Axion Polymers’ Commercial Operations Manager says: “Industry has to embrace these changes. We need to get the changes right, robust and for the long-term, ensuring a level playing field for all. They will be part of a package that delivers a UK home-based, secure circular economy.”

Management changes at S Norton & Co and Axion Recycling

The Board of Directors at S Norton & Co Ltd has announced, with a ‘mix of sadness and gratitude’, the resignation of Roger Morton as Managing Director of both S Norton and Axion Recycling.

Roger will leave his full-time employment with both companies on February 28th 2019. However, he will continue in a consultancy role, acting for both companies on a project by project basis, over the coming months.

Roger helped to form Axion in 2001 and the subsequent joint venture with S Norton in 2006. He was appointed Managing Director of S Norton in June 2016. Throughout this time, he has worked tirelessly on the development of waste recycling.

In his role as Managing Director of S Norton, Roger has fulfilled a vital role in the reorganisation of the company, particularly in relation to corporate governance, regulatory compliance as well as organisational and operational matters.

At Axion, it will be ‘business as usual’ with most of the staff who previously reported to Roger now reporting to Judith Clayman, who becomes General Manager. Judith, one of Axion’s original employees, has been Axion’s Finance Manager for many years.

John Norton, Chairman of S Norton & Co Ltd, said: “Axion is at the forefront of recycling plastic from end-of-life vehicles and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), thanks to Roger’s dedicated service, drive and enthusiasm. We are grateful for the changes that Roger has helped us to introduce at S Norton. I am sorry that Roger is leaving us and wish him well for the future.”

Roger commented: “I am sad to be leaving my friends and colleagues at S Norton and Axion. They are both great businesses that are helping to save the planet by recovering vital resources for the future. I am privileged to have been part of this industry.”

He added: “I am particularly grateful to John, Charlie and Matt Norton for their vision, integrity and commitment in supporting Axion as it developed into a sector leader over the past 12 years. They deserve great respect from everyone in the industry. I know that S Norton and Axion will continue to grow and flourish under their leadership.

Founded in 1960, S Norton & Co Ltd is family-run scrap processing business collecting, processing and distributing over one million tonnes of ferrous scrap every year. It has long-established metal recycling operations across the UK in Manchester, London, Liverpool and Southampton, employing a total of 215 people.

Axion Recycling Ltd was founded in 2001 by directors Roger Morton and Keith Freegard, who is also still involved with the business on a part-time consultancy basis.

Axion Polymers expands its sales and business team

Axion Polymers is expanding its sales and business development teams across both its Manchester sites in response to rising demand for resource-efficient, high quality recycled polymers.

Commercial Operations Manager Laura Smith is now overseeing the sales and business development functions for the Salford and Trafford Park facilities. She also shares responsibility for business development for the polymer products from Salford with Mark Keenan, Business Development Manager.

Sales and Logistics Manager Amy Stiven heads up sales of all products from both sites, which produce high-grade Axpoly polymers, SRF and aggregates derived from UK end-of-life vehicles and waste electrical goods.

Taking charge of technical development for polymers is Process Development Engineer Pasika Chongcharoenthaweesuk, while Commercial Coordinator Martina Verescakova manages the Duty of Care checks for materials from Axion’s advanced processing plant (SWAPP).

SWAPP Sales Executive Sam Mahoney looks after new business for SWAPP, SRF, aggregates and other materials, as well as looking after existing customers.

Laura commented: “In almost all cases now, we are required to make a technical sell, whether it is for SRF or RDF, or for development products for polymers customers. Our expert team work together to provide an efficient service that is appreciated by our customers”

Having contacted potential polymer customers, Mark works with clients and their production teams to assess how best to run the material on their machines. Results are fed back to the lab where Pasika develops the correct formulations.

Laura added: “It is a similar process for SRF or RDF customers, where we tweak aspects of the process or delivery format/service to meet their needs. Dom Lorimer, SWAPP Operations Manager, delivers any required process development and Martina organises logistics for ‘just in time’ deliveries.”

Industry needs a recycling solution for PP films

With research showing that polypropylene (PP) film is readily recyclable, industry needs to plan a viable solution to recover the 100,000 tonnes of this packaging material put on the market every year in the UK.

PP film, used mainly in food packaging such as biscuit and crisp packets, is not currently collected in sufficient quantities and recycled. Yet studies have shown that this material could be recovered and used in a wide range of injection-moulding or extrusion applications, such as non-food packaging, pipes, transit packaging and automotive parts, according to Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Circular Economy.

“Industry needs to devise a solution as there is a considerable amount of this material used in packaging. Although it can be sorted and separated, the correct infrastructure is needed so that PP film can be collected in significant volumes through household kerbside collections, be reprocessed and reused in applications outside of flexibles,” he says.

The real benefit of PP is the ability to modify the flow characteristics and take it from a film to an injection-moulded rigid item, such as packaging for non-food application or high value, performance products such as automotive parts.

Richard explains that it is not necessary to swap PP for PE, saying: “We do not have a suitable recycling structure for post-consumer household PE films and Europe has a surplus of low grade films. The current trend to substitute PP for PE in small format primary packaging is not beneficial from a recycling viewpoint. PE is no easier to recycle, and the issue isn’t from the material but in the difficulty and collecting, separating and cleaning primary packaging formats.

“From a technical point of view, PP films offer greater flexibility at end of life. The difficulty with LDPE films is that you cannot modify the melt characteristics, and so you have to recycle it back into film, which is very demanding from a quality point of view.”

One solution could be to blend the small format household PE and PP films to produce an injection-moulding or extrusion grade polymer. Axion is currently involved in a WRAP project researching end markets for a PE/PP blended material that could potentially go back into rigid applications.

Richard adds: “Many companies have signed up to the WRAP Plastic Pact that will create a circular economy for plastic. By 2025, the targets are 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable and 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted. If we are to hit those targets, we need not only a solution for film, but a solution for PP film.”

“Recycling PP packaging would help prevent its export and give the material a value, which should help stop it escaping into the natural environment.”

Business models for recycling are changing for the better

Changing business models for plastic recycling could lead to more profitable businesses, higher grade material on the market and make investment in recycling infrastructure more viable.

A shift away from the ‘traditional’ recycling business model could also potentially open up market opportunities for ‘lower quality’ recyclate, such as that from flexible plastics, according to Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Circular Economy.

“Business models for recycling are changing, and in a beneficial way,” he observes. The sector is shifting away from the ‘old style’ recycling model of ‘buy waste, process it, sell flake/commodity compound’.”

Richard has identified shifts towards two distinct operational models. Some companies are controlling the waste, using it as infeed and producing recyclate from that; along the lines of Axion Polymers’ extraction and processing of plastics from end-of-life vehicles at its SWAPP facility. Others are becoming an ‘end user’ that buys in waste before converting that into a secondary raw material used in their own products.

Fluctuations in infeed or output prices cause difficulties for recyclers. In an ideal world, Richard argues that companies would collect plastic waste directly from households, process it and use the recyclate in new products.

Welcoming the current trend towards investment in or takeovers of recycling businesses by large petrochemical firms, he continues: “This is positive news as they bring stable financial backing and access to an existing customer base, alongside valuable polymer science knowledge and R&D capabilities. All this can aid growth and further development in recycling capability.”

Targeting higher-value markets is another trend that is benefiting the recycling sector. Rather than selling HDPE for piping, for example, firms are improving the quality and selling it for more demanding applications, such as packaging. Richard reckons this gap in supply of lower-grade recyclate could be filled by flexible packaging recycling.

He says: “With a proposed tax on packaging with less than 30% recycled content, there will be a significant increase in demand for high quality material, potentially giving recycled compounds a higher market price than virgin. This should shift recyclate from packaging up the quality ladder, moving it away from applications such as pipes and transport and logistic packaging.

“This movement of recyclate could then open a gap in the market from “lower grade” recycled polymers, such as that produced from flexible packaging. With competition from higher grade HDPE and PP removed, compounds from flexibles could be supplied into these markets, improving the economic argument for recycling flexibles.”

This trend is likely to be stimulated by brand managers needing to incorporate more recycled content for marketing purposes.

Concluding, Richard believes that an ‘interesting’ shift in the nature of recycling business models could herald a new era in the applications of recyclable materials as well as one in which successful companies can thrive.

Brexit could drive UK circular economy

Brexit could offer fresh opportunities for the UK and its manufacturers to secure their raw material supplies, such as recycled plastics, from a stable domestic market and stimulate a circular flow of materials.

Potential difficulties in transporting material across borders after March 29 2019 could become a driver for growth in the domestic market as purchasers seek to reduce inward material supply chain risk.

Axion Director Roger Morton asserts that freedom from regulatory controls and external policies, coupled with the ability to set our own rules, could encourage greater investment and enable the UK to ‘get ahead of the rest of Europe’ in material recovery and resource security, provided there is strong Government leadership.

Mark Keenan, Axion Polymers Business Development Manager comments: “With 31.5 million cars currently on UK roads, our future end-of-life vehicle feedstock for our recycled polymers is assured. And that can only be good news for UK companies seeking to use locally-sourced plastic raw materials that can go back into a range of products, from new cars and electrical equipment to construction products,” adds Mark.

Roger says: “Brexit is inevitable now. Although complications could arise, we are taking a positive approach. British companies should focus on the opportunity that leaving the EU offers and how we can make the most of our resource sustainable position.”

A good example here, he points out, is steel. With annual consumption (12 Mt) versus annual arisings (11.5 Mt), this market could be much more ‘circular’ than the existing export of scrap/import of finished products model. Similarly, demand creation for the use of recycled polymers in new automotive, electrical and building products could encourage further investment in more processing plants like Axion’s.

While material quality controls, such as REACH regulations and other standards, should remain ‘mirrored with Europe’, Roger suggests there could be an opportunity to ‘take the lead by designing and implementing a set of regulatory measures that drive the transition to a circular economy here’.

Such measures could involve heavily-modulated producer responsibility obligations for brands that make the most effort to change to fully recyclable designs and/or utilise high levels of recycled content. “This would require vision and a brave government with strong leadership” observes Roger, “but in an uncertain world; what’s certain is that material would be available in the UK for use in the UK!”

One of the long-term benefits of Brexit, he says, should be that we can stop mass exports of waste plastic packaging and WEEE, and start investing in recycling infrastructure in the UK as an ‘environmental goal’. While 63% of collected UK plastic packaging resources is currently exported, the country is short of around 10 to 15 large-scale recycling plants to handle that volume.

Plus, we don’t have enough energy-from-waste capacity to handle the low-grade reject plastic stream produced by those plants – around 50% of their waste infeed tonnage. So strategic government thinking and stable long-term policy measures and clear goals for the five to ten years’ will be needed to drive this change.

Roger suggests that there is an opportunity for the UK Government to drive the development of recycling demonstration and pilot ‘pathfinder’ plants once we are free of ’state aid’ regulations that prevent preferential treatment by governments.

He adds: “UK businesses need to wake up to these future possibilities and start talking to suppliers like us that can offer a secure supply of material. It’s competitive on price, performs to the same standard as virgin material – and it’s low carbon!”

“We’ve seen an increase an enquiries in recent months and there’s a lot of interest from UK manufacturers in what we can offer. Despite current uncertainty around Brexit, we remain upbeat about the opportunities to trigger more material moving within the circular economy in the UK!”

Recovinyl: 2017 PVC recycling figures continue to rise

The collection and recycling of waste PVC throughout Europe, including the UK, reached a new high of 639,648 tonnes in 2017, according to latest industry figures.

Recovinyl®, the PVC industry’s recycling scheme, was the largest contributor to this total and registered a total of 633,127 tonnes of recycled PVC waste in 2017. While this represented a 13% increase from 2016 with increased volumes recorded in France and Italy, recyclers reported a shortage of post-consumer window profiles for recycling in the UK.

Recovinyl is an initiative by the European PVC value-chain aimed at facilitating PVC waste collection and recycling. Created in 2003 as part of Vinyl 2010, the predecessor of VinylPlus®, its aim is to advance the sustainable development of the PVC industry by boosting the collection and recycling of waste.

Today, as part of the VinylPlus voluntary commitment to sustainable development of the European PVC industry, Recovinyl has a broader mission. Its activities extend to optimising the resource efficiency of the PVC industry by mediating between recyclers and converters to establish a trustworthy relationship and material flow.

Recovinyl’s target is to stimulate and certify the recycling of 800,000 tonnes of PVC waste by 2020 as one of the challenges set in the VinylPlus Voluntary Commitment. VinylPlus has also recently committed to recycle and certify the use of at least 900,000 tonnes of PVC per year into new products by 2025, securing PVC’s place at the heart of the Circular Economy.

Furthermore, VinylPlus has also committed to recycling a minimum of one million tonnes per year by 2030.

PVC is a strong, versatile and readily-recyclable material widely used in many modern building products; the most familiar in this sector being window frames, fascias and soffits. Since their introduction to this country around 40 years ago, PVC-U windows and doors have been installed in millions of homes throughout the UK.

Developments in design, materials and construction have greatly improved the aesthetics, thermal-efficiency and security of these popular products over recent decades. As homeowners have substituted their older and often single-glazed windows with modern versions, this growing ‘replacing the replacements’ market has resulted in corresponding growth in PVC recycling infrastructure.

Previously there was little or no recycling infrastructure in place to accept waste PVC-U frames, which were sent to landfill. Since 2003 when Recovinyl was created, and 2005 when it was established in the UK, more PVC waste is being recycled.

PVC can be recycled multiple times without any loss of performance and reused in many diverse new and long-life products from construction products such as windows to flooring and electrical components.

Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy at Axion, Recovinyl’s Regional Representative for the UK, says:

“Recovinyl continues to deliver impressive sustainable achievements in recycling a valuable material that was once consigned to landfill. On-going investment in recycling infrastructure, strong commitment from the construction sector and growing demand from manufacturers for good recycled material are all key factors.”

“For fabricators and installers, recycling PVC makes ‘complete sense’” says Richard: “With a recycling network across the UK, it’s a convenient way to save you money on landfill disposal, it protects the environment and it’s the right thing to do.”

“Whether you are a fabricator or an installer, you could save money by recycling your waste PVC and Recovinyl can help you to do this. Look on the Recovinyl website to find your local recycler.”

VEKA Recycling was one of the first Recovinyl recyclers in the UK, opening their Kent facility in 2007, followed by further investment in a Wellingborough plant in 2018. Working with strategic collection partners throughout the UK, it offers a reliable recycling service for recycling PVC frames and post-production off-cuts.

Simon Scholes, Commercial Director at VEKA Recycling says that the ‘increasing professionalism’ of the PVC recycling industry is contributing to the material’s sustainability and its value as a waste resource that can be recycled.

“There is greater awareness in the window industry that PVC can be recycled and we welcome the fact that profile manufacturers recognise this and are responding by recycling more. Investment is making the PVC recycling industry more professional and is helping to bring sustainability to the industry as a whole.”

Commenting on the VinylPlus report of a shortage of post-consumer PVC frames for recycling in the UK, Simon continues: “It’s good that there are several large recyclers hungry for feedstock as we are all after a finite amount of waste PVC. A number of factors are influencing supply, such as Brexit uncertainty, the market flattening and companies working smarter and producing less waste. But there’s no simple answer.”

“While the market may have stabilised, demand for PVC recyclate continues to rise and the construction industry has much to gain economically and environmentally by sending waste PVC for recycling.”

Cumulatively, 4.2 million tonnes of PVC have been recycled through the VinylPlus framework across Europe since 2000. Building on this, Recovinyl’s strategy continues with consolidating and increasing the steady supply of PVC waste being recycled in Europe by creating demand – a ‘pull-market’ for recycled PVC material – from the converting industry.

Axion Polymers invests in product development laboratory facilities

Axion Polymers has invested in more laboratory test equipment at its Salford site, including a new injection moulder, that will enable a greater range of polymer testing and further development of recycled polymer grades.

Axion’s in-house test capability now includes a Fourier Transform mid -infrared spectrometer for analysing the composition of black and dark-coloured polymer chips, a near-infrared multi-chip spectrometer for rapid analysis of large quantities of polymer chips and an X-Ray fluorescence analyser for heavy metals and bromine.

The laboratory also has a notched Izod impact tester, a tensile tester and a lab-scale injection moulder to produce test pieces and evaluate moulding performance.

Axion’s Salford plant refines plastics extracted from end-of-life vehicles at its nearby facility at Trafford Park, Manchester. The laboratory investment further enhances Axion’s technical capability in supplying tailored polymers to suit specific end-user requirements, such as modified melt flow, impact resistance and tensile strength.

According to Mark Keenan, Axion Polymers Business Development Manager, the new laboratory equipment ‘provides an improved range and accuracy of results for our customers’. “Optimising the performance and output data demonstrates our on-going commitment to quality, which is at the core of Axion Polymers’ principles,” he says.

“Being able to guarantee consistent quality results and product is so important to all our customers, most of which run their operations 24 hours a day. The new laboratory equipment will ensure we are able to do that.”

The laboratory facilities have been upgraded as part of improved quality control measures and technical product development. Pasika Chongcharoenthaweesuk, Axion’s Polymer Process Development Engineer explains:

“The investment in new laboratory test equipment allows us to achieve reliable data for our polymer quality and process control. This helps to optimise the process, not only to produce a consistent quality product but also to improve the quality and increase the throughput. This has opened up new opportunities for us to develop products suitable for other applications.”

Axion Polymers Commercial Operations Manager Laura Smith says the new injection moulding and test equipment allows the team to develop new grades faster. Laura says: “This investment is excellent for our laboratory as we are always developing new product grades as a result of customer requests. The new equipment enables us to provide much quicker results, thus providing better customer service.”

Targets for recycled content in food packaging need care

Setting minimum targets for recycled content in food packaging may sound like a good idea, but could lead to overall less efficient use of resources if material types and their applications are not carefully considered, cautions Richard McKinlay, Head of Circular Economy at Axion.

It’s widely acknowledged that to make recycling more economically viable, an end market ‘pull-effect’ is needed to create the demand for recycled material. Setting minimum ‘recycled content’ targets is one way of stimulating this demand.

Minimum ‘recycled content’ targets would be a positive step for many products, such as automotive parts, groundworks, piping and, in some cases, packaging. However, this approach could be counter-productive in areas such as polypropylene (PP) food packaging.

The technology and infrastructure is not currently available to produce food grade recycled PP from post-consumer household packaging. As a result, if minimum targets are introduced, in the short term, manufacturers would have to move from PP into polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

However, this presents a key issue with PET in pots, tubs and tray applications. As several WRAP studies have shown, the lower quality of PET recycled from pots, tubs and trays makes it unsuitable for many end-use applications. This means you might substitute a recyclable pack that’s good in every other way, but without recycled content, for a pack that may not be as good for recycling yet has recycled content.

Established markets for recycled PP already exist, such as automotive parts and furniture, and these markets can more easily increase recycled content than in packaging applications.

Although research is being done into sorting material using markers to sort food contact from non-food contact PP packaging, and PET thermoform recycling is progressing; in the short term brands, retailers and converters should be able to continue using PP without recycled content – and not be penalised for doing so.

Furthermore, I feel that given the challenges of including recycled content in flexible packaging, a minimum target would be a retrograde step. Manufacturers would be tempted to move back to rigid materials, such as glass or aluminium, which may impact negatively on the complete product lifecycle, through higher transportation costs for example.

Currently, we are in an interesting position where more effort is being put into developing recycling systems and the use of recycled materials. However, we cannot keep switching material format. It’s important that we do the best we can with current infrastructure based on complete product lifecycle economics.

Food safety is the most crucial aspect of packaging; perhaps we should encourage a circular economy approach where virgin polymer is used in food packaging, which is then recycled into non-food packaging and other long-life products.

It’s all about creative thinking around end applications and not worrying so much about closed-loop recycling. The automotive sector offers a big potential market for flexible PP in new end products, as well as secondary packaging applications, such as plastic delivery envelopes.

In the future, targets will be a great help, but we’re not quite there yet. We must ensure that we don’t take ‘one step forward and two steps back’.

Axion Polymers supports auto industry’s recycled plastics vision

Axion Polymers has supplied its 100% recycled polymer from end-of-life vehicles to help a leading automotive manufacturer demonstrate the use of sustainable components in new cars.

Axpoly PP polymer was blended 50/50 with a polypropylene recycled from packaging waste to achieve a specification required by vehicle designers for reuse in new vehicle components.

An initial sample of this plastic blend has been used successfully to mould both internal and external body parts for a new car in a collaborative demonstration project for Volvo Car Group involving more than 40 suppliers of vehicle components.

Axion’s strong technical expertise and continual development of high-quality recycled polymer grades that can replace virgin plastics in new cars supports the automotive industry in its transition from a ‘Linear’ to a Circular Economy.

At the Ocean Summit conference, held in June at Gothenburg, Sweden, Volvo Car Group set out its ambition that at least 25% of the plastics used in every newly-launched Volvo car will be made from recycled material after 2025. The car maker unveiled a specially-built version of its XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV model which has over 170 plastic parts (circa 60 kilos) made out of recycled plastics in place of virgin polymers.

The recycled-plastics XC60 was revealed at the Ocean Summit during the Gothenburg Volvo Ocean Race stopover. The race’s focus on sustainability centres on a partnership with the United Nations Environment Clean Seas campaign, focussing on the call to action ‘Turn the Tide on Plastic’.

Keith Freegard, Associate Consultant at Axion Polymers, who attended the Ocean Summit conference, commented: “It was great to take part in the Ocean Summit debate and to see large multi-national organisations making strong commitments to tackle this worldwide and hugely-significant issue.”

As the main sponsor of the yacht race, Volvo Car Group has taken a ‘strong and leading’ position in its commitment to the increased use of sustainable materials in its vehicles, said Keith.

He added: “Seeing the ‘first adopters’ take the lead in such an important market as motor vehicles really gives me hope that the problem of ocean plastic pollution can be solved by taking such positive action for change.”