Demand for quality recycled polymer at record levels

Demand for quality recycled polymers is at record levels due to increased demand from a wide variety of industry and manufacturing sectors.

Speaking after exhibiting at the 2021 Interplas Show, Mark Keenan, Business Development Manager comments: “There is a real shortage in the market for quality recycled material that we are seeing day in day out. We get asked for supply more than ever before.

“There was significant interest from visitors considering switching to recycled material and people were particularly interested in our secure infeed supply given the current material supply shortages.”

Axion Polymers showcased its range of locally sourced and produced Axpoly® recycled PP and ABS polymers grades at the show, which Mark says was ‘a great success, a very positive experience for us as a business and for the industry as a whole’.

With the automotive and electronic industries, in particular, making commitments to future use of recycled material, Axion Polymers believes this will only increase demand for sustainable solutions for all types of manufacturers.

Amid reported shortages of virgin material supply, Axion Polymers’ established and fully tested grades from its advanced re-processing plants offer a reliable, UK-sourced alternative 100% recycled content as good as virgin in performance.

Axion produces its range of high-quality Axpoly® PP (polypropylene) and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) engineering grades to ISO 9001 quality standards. UK-generated end-of-life vehicles (ELV) and WEEE are processed by Axion’s parent company S Norton & Co, separating waste plastics for processing by Axion’s own plants and providing a secure infeed material supply.

“It has been three years since the last Interplas Show and we were delighted to be back,” continues Mark. “While the show is a great place to attract new business and network with all parts of the industry, for me it was just as important to meet existing customers to make sure they are happy with our service.”

At its in-house laboratory and testing facilities, Axion’s expert team works with customers to formulate specific grades to match their polymer physical properties requirements. Trials can also be conducted in house, and at customers’ own factories to ensure the recycled polymer is suitable for customers’ particular applications.

Balancing the needs of the circular economy and a toxic-free world

Growing pressure to transition to the circular economy and the desire to eliminate legacy additives is proving to be a conundrum for the plastics recycling sector. Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Consulting, explores the issues and impacts on the industry.

Plastic products have been an integral part of our modern lives for some decades now, providing excellent functionality in myriad applications and sectors.

Recycling is an important part of the circular economy and to keep materials flowing, there will always be a need to recover and recycle plastics, wherever possible.

But when it comes to recycling these materials, plastics containing legacy additives – Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) – cannot be recycled due to restrictions aimed at eliminating risk to health and the environment.

There is an enormous amount of ‘legacy’ plastic in long life goods, such as electronics, construction and automotive products. For example, almost half of all plastics from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) cannot be recycled because their POPs content exceeds permitted levels. Inevitably, these ‘contaminated’ materials have to be incinerated.

These plastics can contain additives we now know are harmful to the environment or to human health, and therefore have since been restricted for use in new products under REACH regulations.

Consequently, the industry is facing a huge problem of how to recycle legacy products, some of which are in theory recyclable, but contain hazardous additives that are now restricted. This is making recycling more difficult, whereas in a circular economy, the process should be made easier. Achieving a circular economy for WEEE plastics is looking more distant because of more stringent POPs limits and the desire to be ‘toxic-free’.

Even the potential presence of legacy additives is enough to prevent recycling, and with costly laboratory analysis required to prove the absence of banned additives often recyclers will not process these ‘legacy’ plastics.

Now the burden of these legacy additives, and responsibility for them, is on waste managers and recyclers rather than the manufacturers who profited from them in the first place. Producers want to demonstrate ‘producer responsibility’ by ensuring their goods can be recycled, yet when it comes to items like waste electronics it is becoming more and more difficult.

Legally, POPS waste must be destroyed. As this waste is often mixed with non-POPs plastics, which cannot be separated, then the mixture needs to be destroyed and raw material resources are lost.

So, where does this leave us? Although technology is continually improving to be able to separate POPs, such as X-ray sorting to identify bromine, this comes at a high cost compared to conventional methods.

Then there is the constant threat of more additives becoming restricted and moving to the banned POPs list. Amidst all these regulations, there are still recycling targets to meet, and it seems the recyclers are left to deal with it all.

Stopping harmful additives at source in manufacturing is absolutely vital, but if they have historically been used, they will remain in the waste for many years. The ability of the waste industry to adapt must be considered when restricting more additives.
Ultimately, what is needed is a collaborative approach with manufacturers, recyclers and regulators all working together towards maximising what we can recycle and removing hazardous substances. Recyclers need continued cross supply chain support.

If regulations become too burdensome to recycle responsibly, the danger is that waste could be forced down illegal and unregulated routes leading to a worse environmental outcome in the future.

Employee of the month – Hugo Pereira and Keelan Sharples

Employee of the month awards for July have been presented to Hugo Pereira and Keelan Sharples.

Hugo Pereira is based at our Salford site and works as a Production Operator, Second in Command for his shift. He was nominated for Employee of the Month by his shift leader Riki Lock who commented: “I have been really impressed with Hugo’s hard work, dedication and willingness to learn any job you ask him to do.”

Keelan Sharples is a Production Operator at our Trafford Park site and was nominated for Employee of the Month by his shift leader Dave Jeffrey. Keelan was nominated for going above and beyond, covering plants when staff shortages occurred, always being on time and and always being willing to help others. Keelan even came to work on his day off in order to complete training!

Well done to both Hugo and Keelan on their well deserved awards.

Axion & PlastiCircle develop new uses for non-bottle PET waste

Axion & PlastiCircle develop new uses for non-bottle PET waste

Recycled polymers from waste plastic packaging can be used in non-packaging applications, reports Axion, one of 20 organisations involved in PlastiCircle, a pioneering pan-European research project.

The €8.6 million EU Horizon 2020-funded project has been working for the past four years to optimise the collection, transport, sorting and recycling of kerbside collected plastic packaging with the aim of transforming this waste into sustainable new products. The project ends in May 2021.

Axion is managing work with five manufacturers on how recycled content from plastic packaging can be incorporated into different non-packaging applications, including the construction and automotive sectors.

Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Consulting says although the need and demand for closed loop recycling back into packaging is growing, there are still opportunities to use more recycled content in non-packaging applications.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), although less commonly used in non-packaging applications, does have uses in the construction industry. PET bottles are often collected and recycled back into food packaging, which is the most beneficial route. But non-bottle PET, such as that used in thermoformed trays, is not widely recycled and much of this material goes to energy recovery.

Greater concentration of PET tray material is found in kerbside collections in countries that operate a deposit scheme on PET bottles. As the PET tray is a more brittle copolymer, it cannot be recycled into a bottle and can be technically challenging to use back in food trays. Coloured PET also faces more market limitations as the demand is largely for clear PET.

“To increase demand and therefore improve the economics of recycling PET tray material, more end markets would be beneficial,” says Richard.

One example of a non-packaging product using recycled PET is a foam PET board produced by Armacell. Working within the PlastiCircle project, the Belgian manufacturer has overcome technical challenges to develop the use of alternative sources of rPET, like PET trays, and give a second life to this packaging material, while gaining a new feedstock source.

Since 2010, Armacell has been pioneering in the production of PET foam boards based on 100% recycled post-consumer bottles flakes for a range of technical applications, such as wind energy, construction, rail and road transport and automotive, as well as general industries.

For Armacell, the challenges related to recycling PET tray material are the low intrinsic viscosity (IV), the frequent use of multilayer sheets in packaging trays and other contaminations coming from the mixed plastic household waste collection.

To achieve the correct mechanical properties for the PET foam boards, it is essential to limit raw material variations and to master material melt viscosity and pressure in the extruder. “With a combination of adapted processing parameters, as well as new melt modifier formulation, it is possible to produce foam boards from tray-PET that have a comparable quality to foam boards produced from bottle PET,” comments Lisa Scholle, Armacell’s Innovation Scientist, PET Foams.

She adds: “The possibility of using PET from trays to produce PET foam boards opens up a new source of raw material. In addition, the raw material price is likely to be lower than that of PET from post-consumer bottles in the long run.”

Richard concludes that demonstrating the use of recycled PET from trays in non-packaging applications ‘should help to progress European infrastructure’.

He adds: “Going forwards, additional financial incentive to encourage more recycling into non-packaging applications would help the sector to overcome some economic barriers. This project represents another significant step forward in the move to a circular economy for plastics because it has shown what is possible in using recycled content in quite demanding applications, which has previously not been done on such a scale.”

Employees of the month – Tadese Bhrane and Henry Tannahill

Tadese Bhrane and Henry Tannahill are the latest winners of our ‘Employee of the Month’ awards. Tadese works as an Industrial Labourer at our Trafford Park site and was nominated for his work ethic and his dedication to his role. Tadese is known for his positive attitude and his willingness to take on any task without issue.

Henry works as a Process Engineer at our Salford site and has been working hard recently on process improvements with great results. His hard work and focus meant that the improvements were implemented on time and have already proved to be very effective.

 

 

Axion Polymers enhances lab testing with new XRF analyser

Axion has invested in new lab testing equipment at its Salford-based plastics recycling facility that will allow for more accurate and rigorous material testing of its recycled polymer infeed material and finished products.

Designed for regulatory compliance screening, the XRF X-MET8000 Expert CG handheld analyser identifies regulated elements, usually metals, within the plastic infeed material. Crucially, the Hitachi High-Tech device identifies and measures substances of very high concern (SVCH) and restricted persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Axion’s Salford plant refines plastics extracted from waste electrical goods and end-of-life vehicles (auto shredder waste) at our nearby facility at Trafford Park, Manchester. The resulting high-quality recycled engineering polymers are REACH and RoHS-compliant and match virgin material quality for use in a wide range of new products.

“This state-of-the-art XRF analyser means Axion’s customers can have a very high level of confidence that the material they are buying complies with REACH and RoHS regulations,” says Mark Keenan, Axion’s Business Development Manager.

“Enhancing our lab capabilities enables us to deal with the ever-changing landscape of material testing requirements and gives us the ability to comply with any changes in the permitted levels of SVCHs and POPs in the future.”

Having the on-site ability to test finished products also gives Axion an advantage over its competitors, Mark believes. “Having this technology on site will be a big plus and help set us apart from other recyclers.”

He notes that demand for recycled polymers in all sectors is currently high, adding: “The automotive and electrical markets are realising that they are going to have to include recycled content in their goods. I am getting enquiries on a daily basis from manufacturers looking to replace virgin plastics.”

Women should consider careers in recycling

Women are involved in every level of the materials recycling industry and this is certainly the case at Axion Polymers where they hold key roles in a number of areas from management and finance to process engineering and laboratory research.

“The recycling sector offers interesting and varied employment opportunities, and we would encourage women to consider it as a career choice. Personally speaking, it is motivating and rewarding to be working for a company that recovers and recycles valuable resources, and diverts that material from landfill,” says Caroline Howarth, Axion’s Marketing & Information Governance Manager.

“If you are interested in science, engineering, recycling and the environment, this is a great sector to be in. It is a high-tech, modern industry that offers so much opportunity,” continues Caroline. “Here at Axion, we are proud of our female employees who are innovative, proactive and committed to their work. So, to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th and hopefully inspire others, we are sharing some of their stories.”

Joining Axion Polymers in 2006 from university, Laura Smith has worked in various roles, including conducting trials, R&D, logistics and commercial sales. As Commercial Operations Manager, she oversees the sales and business development functions for the Salford and Trafford Park processing facilities.

At these sites, plastics recovered from end-of-life vehicles (auto shredder waste) and waste electrical goods are refined into high-quality recycled engineering polymers that match virgin material quality for use in a wide range of new products.

Laura was seeking a career path ‘in an industry which had longevity’, explaining: “Although at the time, recycling in the UK was not that advanced, it was apparent the industry was moving forward and improving. I felt I wanted to be part of that growth and that the recycling sector offered an interesting career choice.

“Each day brings different challenges, so I’m constantly learning. However, it is particularly satisfying to see the business growing and we are processing more material each year. It is rewarding too, as we are diverting material from landfill and working towards a world where nothing goes to waste!”

Judith Clayman joined in 2003 as Axion’s first employee responsible for the project management of a novel recycling project dealing with brominated flame retardants in plastics. She progressed from part-time project accountant to full time Head of Finance & HR to General Manager.

Although an accountant by profession, Judith says the job “appealed” as the company vision was very clear that “we wanted to work towards a world where nothing goes to waste, even if the slogan hadn’t been adopted at that point!”

The most rewarding aspects of her work, she says, are seeing the ‘real passion’ in the teams from production to the business support teams and advancement in resource recovery processes, adding: “Witnessing the ‘infeed’ which looks like the material inside a vacuum cleaner being turned into ‘products’ that can be used in various industries from aggregate in construction to plastics in drainage gives a real sense of achievement.”

Also holding senior positions are Axion’s Head of HR Jane Bennett and Charlotte Addison, Finance Manager. Jane, whose keen interest in the environment, recycling and sustainability attracted her to the sector, enjoys her ‘varied and interesting’ role.

She adds: “With more women entering the recycling/resource recovery sector, perceptions are changing and there are opportunities to progress. I am proud that the majority of the senior management team at Axion are women.”

‘Passionate about the environment and relevance to my degree’ were key reasons for Abigail Moynihan, who works in the Trafford Park laboratory, joining Axion in 2019. She says Axion’s ‘friendly and co-operative team’ makes her job all the more enjoyable.

Having completed two consecutive years working as a summer placement student at Axion, Uchenna Onwuamaegbu joined as a Process Engineer at the Salford site in 2011 after graduating from the University of Manchester. Keen to gain some engineering experience, her career choice ‘wasn’t planned’.

“Axion was recommended to me at university. After six months working for Axion, I became more interested in resource recovery and wanted to explore further how value can be extracted from scrap and the technical and process requirements to safely achieve these goals, and profitably.”

What Uchenna enjoys most about her job is working as a team to overcome daily challenges, be they problem solving, investment decisions or simply prioritising tasks, to ensure continuous process maintenance and improvement.

 

Employee of the month – Charles Parkinson

This month, Charles Parkinson, Lead Process Engineer at Axion’s Trafford Park site, was awarded ‘Employee of the Month’.

This is in recognition of the work he did to migrate the process data at Trafford Park to new software, reconfiguring the data and getting the system working.   This involved a large amount of work and and effort to complete in the time available. Congratulations Charles!

Christmas closure

Meery Christmas from all at Axion
Our Trafford Park and Salford sites will both close for business on Thursday 24th December 2020 at 16:00
We will re-open for business on Monday 4th January 2021 at 08:00.
We would like to wish all our friends, customers and colleagues a very happy Christmas, and our best wishes to everyone for a better new year.

Employee of the month – Ethan Gordon

employee-of-the-month-ethan-gordon

Our employee of the month is Ethan Gordon. We had a lack of resources recently in the lab and Ethan worked very hard to keep all activities in the lab going. A particular example was staying extra hours on a Sunday to ensure he finished testing the material so the order could be dispatched the following day to meet the customer delivery date on time. Thank you for your hard work.