Investment boosts recycling capacity for Axion Polymers

Further investment in Axion Polymers’ plastics recycling facility has increased waste processing capacity, as well as extrusion capability of its 100% recycled polymer grades. It is the first phase of continuing investment in the plant development.

Additional equipment has been purchased and installed at its Shredder Waste Advanced Processing Plant (SWAPP), Trafford Park, which has ‘de-bottlenecked’ part of the high-tech process.

As a result, the plant capacity has improved by over 30% per month, allowing increased volumes of auto shredder residue (ASR) from end-of-life vehicles (ELV) and Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) to be processed into its high-quality Axpoly recycled polypropylene (PP) and ABS grades.

The greater processing capacity translates into a 20% increase in recycled polymers produced per month, enabling Axion to satisfy increased demand from the construction and automotive sectors for these materials.

Axion’s processes demonstrate a full circular economy approach; extracting and refining a high-quality engineering polymer from auto shredder waste and WEEE.

Operated jointly with S Norton, one of the UK’s leading ferrous and non-ferrous metal recyclers, the SWAPP facility, one of the most advanced of its type in Europe, has an annual capacity of 200,000 tonnes separating the non-metallic fractions (ASR or shredder ‘fluff’) from the equivalent of about 800,000 cars a year.

The plant delivers the 95% recycling and recovery rate for cars, creating a circular economic model for automotive materials. Axion’s high-grade Axpoly® recycled polymers can be used as a direct replacement for virgin polymer or combined with virgin polymers for use in demanding applications, including the automotive sector.

The SWAPP investment means increased volumes of infeed material for Axion’s Salford plant, which refines plastics extracted from ELV and WEEE. It supplies tailored polymers to suit specific end-user requirements, such as modified melt flow, impact resistance and tensile strength.

Axion Polymers Commercial Operations Manager Laura Smith says the new investment is ‘great news’, meaning that they can now satisfy more customer orders, adding: “Our customers benefit from our secure source of infeed material; it means we can reliably satisfy our customer orders. Because of the process modifications we have made, we are now able to supply greater volumes of Axpoly polypropylene and ABS grades every month.”

Praising the team’s hard work, Axion’s General Manager Judith Clayman adds: “They all pulled together to design and install the plant modifications as efficiently as possible and I am very pleased with the result. The investment in the SWAPP plant shows Axion’s commitment to continuously improve and optimise its unique process for recovering materials from end of life vehicles and mixed WEEE appliances.”

Axion Polymers wins a National Recycling Award

Axion Polymers has won a 2019 National Recycling Award in the ‘Team of the Year – Commercial’ category for its circular approach to serving clients’ needs for recycled polymers.

Our knowledgeable team was praised by the National Recycling Awards judges for collaboration in developing bespoke recycled polymers to suit clients’ specifications for use in a wide range of new products.

At Axion’s two processing sites, plastics recovered from end-of-life vehicles (auto shredder waste) are refined into high-quality engineering polymers that match virgin material quality. Teamwork, expert knowledge and client liaison are crucial at every stage of the complex development process.

From initial client contact through to polymer specification and setting up machinery for best finish and results, the team delivers top performance for customers in a diverse sector. What was once considered a waste material has become a valuable raw material resource going back into different applications, such as new vehicle components, furniture and roof tiles.

Collecting the award at a ceremony at the London Hilton, Park Lane, Business Development Manager Mark Keenan said: “Circular economy principles run throughout every aspect of the Axion Polymers team’s work and we’re delighted to have been recognised with a National Recycling Award.”

Amy Stiven, Sales and Logistics Manager added: “We’re proud of our ability to understand and satisfy technical sales. We build long-term relationships with customers to deliver successful, sustainable and locally-sourced raw material supply chains with all-round economic and environmental benefits.”

Axion’s Commercial Operations Manager Laura Smith said: “We’re thrilled and very proud to have won this high-profile award, which recognises the hard work and commitment of the entire Axion Polymers team. It is justly deserved.”

The MRW National Recycling Awards bring together recycling and waste management professionals to recognise and celebrate best practice and innovation in recycling and waste management.

Corin Williams, Editor of MRW said: “Every year through the awards we discover and celebrate truly ground-breaking initiatives, technology and services. The MRW National Recycling Award 2019 winners show our industry has the inspiration, expertise and enthusiasm to meet these challenges and lead from the front.”

Axion Polymers is a National Recycling Awards finalist

Axion Polymers is a finalist in the 2019 National Recycling Awards for the ‘Team of the Year – Commercial’ category for their efforts in driving innovation in recycled polymer applications.

Axion’s experienced team was selected for its united approach in pulling together to develop bespoke recycled polymers to suit clients’ specifications for use in a wide range of new product applications.

Plastics are recycled from end-of-life vehicles (auto shredder waste) and refined into high-quality engineering polymers capable of matching the qualities of virgin material at the company’s two processing sites. This complex process requires dedicated knowledge, teamwork and close liaison with clients at every stage of the development process.

The team delivers high performance for diverse clients through a thorough understanding of their requirements from initial contact; the laboratory team working on the physical properties of the polymer following through to personal visits at clients’ premises and working with their production teams. From that stage, the team helps the client to set up their machinery for best finish and results and existing procedures are checked to ensure they are in place to deal with any customer concerns.

Laura Smith, Commercial Operations Manager says: “We’re prepared to invest a lot of time and effort in the development phase of the project because what we’re looking for are long-term relationships with our customers based on trust. And, ultimately, that is to everyone’s benefit.”

Judith Clayman, Axion’s General Manager comments: “All credit is due to the excellent team at Axion Polymers that builds long-term relationships with customers to deliver successful, sustainable – and crucially locally-sourced – raw material supply chains with all-round benefits. It’s an environmentally-friendly and economically-viable ‘virtuous circle’ of which the whole team is justly proud.”

She adds: “What was once considered a waste material is being turned into a valuable raw material resource: plastics from scrap cars going back into new vehicle components, as well as a host of different applications, from furniture to roof tiles. I’m very proud of our team that is driving the circular economy by working together to meet the customers’ diverse needs in every respect.”

The Awards ceremony will be held at The Hilton, Park Lane, London on June 27th 2019.

Axion Polymers welcomes proposed 500ppm decaBDE limit for recycled plastics

A 500ppm limit of flame retardant decaBDEs within recycled compounds and articles that looks set to be agreed by the EU Commission soon has been welcomed by Axion Polymers as ‘leaving the door open’ for plastic recycling and the use of recyclate in new products.

The proposed 500ppm level in recycled plastics will be a ‘workable’ solution, although it will be tougher to achieve than the proposed 1,000ppm in line with most REACH and RoHS regulations. Virgin polymers have a 10ppm limit.

“Professional companies that have spent time trying to inform and address the EU Parliament in the management of decaBDEs in recycled plastics will welcome the recast of the EU directive as a sensible way forward,” comments Keith Freegard, Axion’s Associate Consultant.

He believes that advanced separating, sorting and refining plants can hit the 500ppm limit for output plastic resins, saying:  “It also means we can continue recycling plastics at our Trafford Park and Salford facilities, and crucially, that our customers can continue to use recycled plastics in eco-design components along circular economy principles.”

However, while the 500ppm is a workable compromise, the planned review in the EU after just two years could present further business challenges for recyclers, according to Keith, who believes this timescale is ‘too short’ for long-term projects.

He points out robust industry evidence about treatment of previously-banned legacy additives, such as those in the automotive sector. Research shows that it takes approximately 10 years for the effect of a ban in new products to be seen in the infeed material at the recycling plants.

“For a review of the acceptable level of decaBDEs in recycled plastic mixtures, industry should show the regulators how the rate declines over time as eventually these legacy additives are mostly eradicated in new components,” continues Keith.

Since before 2012 when decaBDEs entered the REACH SVHC list, the effect from not using these chemicals was already being seen. With car manufacturers reducing their use since 2008-2012, Keith asserts that a similar ‘ramp down’ would be evident in waste plastics but delayed by the average lifetime of a vehicle – around 13 years.

“Hence recyclers may well be seeing trace levels of decaBDEs tail off from 2020 to 2025 and onward to 2030. Any review must be based on firm evidence from European recyclers about how detected levels are changing with time, which could be used to estimate a scientifically-based ramp-down rate for mixtures and articles.”

The United Nations Basel Convention are meeting at CoP 14 in Geneva at the end of April, where they will address a set of treatment guidelines for the WASTE plastic raw materials which are the input feedstock to advanced recycling processes inside Europe and also exported around the world as waste raw materials.

Expressing concerns about the ‘sometimes high levels’ of decaBDE and other legacy additives within part-processed waste plastics sent for export, Keith highlights the need to set a ‘sensible and pragmatic’ level in these materials. The European CENELEC treatment standard uses 2,000ppm as the basis for deciding to ‘separately remove and treat’ waste plastics in WEEE products.

He argues that the level set for input waste streams to recyclers should be higher than that for output polymer products. This is because final, accurate separation of BFR-containing plastic particles is done using advanced technology in refining plants.

Allied with this should be a tougher regime for the global movement of waste plastics that do not meet the strict controls. “Those materials should be processed in the domestic market, ensuring banned chemicals are removed and supporting further investment in large-scale technical plants in Europe,” continues Keith.

He warns that exporting banned flame retardant plastic to Asia, without proper controls in place, risks ‘cheap, uncontrolled’ imports back into Europe of goods in which the banned chemicals have not been removed.

Concluding, he asserts that setting ‘sensible and pragmatic’ levels for decaBDE limits in waste plastics moved across the world would:

  • Ensure a ‘level playing field’ for high-tech recyclers
  • Stop the escape of valuable resources to other countries
  • Help to ensure that imported goods made with recycled WEEE or ELV plastics meet EU safety standards
  • Encourage much-needed investment in European and UK recycling infrastructure, further developing the transition to a circular economy for plastics

Keith adds: “How the EU will implement the findings of the Basel Convention on waste plastic controls remains to be seen. We need less export of poorly-segregated, shredded mixed plastic waste from WEEE and ELV where the levels of legacy additives are difficult to measure and probably not very well recorded.

“And we need more reasons to invest in dealing with our legacy additive-containing waste plastics at home using best available technology.”

Axion Polymers: ‘Water’ way to use recycled polymer

Axion Polymers overcame a series of challenges to prove the concept of using its 100% recycled polymer in clients’ stormwater drainage products. Mark Keenan, Business Development Manager explains how we did it.

Water resource management has become more important in recent years as our changing climate delivers more unexpected rainfall events with the associated need to control localised flooding.

Worth an estimated £3 billion, this sector is growing and presents opportunities for cost-effective, yet sustainable products. As the market potential has developed, we have worked with a number of UK-based building and construction products manufacturers to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of replacing virgin polypropylene (PP) with 100% recycled polymer in water attenuation chambers.

These products are designed to retain flood water in underground chambers from where the excess water can drain away slowly or be stored and pumped out for future use in times of drought or irrigation purposes.

There is a range of shapes and sizes of water attenuation chambers. Some are multi part units and some are crates with lids. Our focus was to assess whether our recycled polymers, derived from end-of-life vehicle plastics, would work for the larger crates.

Project challenges

Over a 12-month period, there have been several challenges, which the team overcame successfully through extensive testing and trials using different polymer formulations.

Our high-quality 100% recycled Axpoly® plastics are mechanically separated at Axion Polymers’ Shredder Waste Advanced Processing Plant (SWAPP) in Manchester. They are further refined at our Salford polymer compounding site where well-equipped lab facilities enable us to carry out extensive tests and trials using different polymer blends.

While Axpoly recycled polypropylene has a consistent set of properties making it an excellent choice for certain applications, the standard grade had to be modified to meet the structural strength requirements for the water attenuation chambers.

As the crates are stacked on top of each other, they require a hefty load bearing capacity. Our first challenge was meeting the specifications for structural strength. It takes several trials and different modifications until we achieve the right formulation, making sure that the standard deviation is very low on the product batches, so that it successfully passes external tests for compression strength and consistency.

We have already sold 1500 tonnes of Axpoly® polymer that has so far produced thousands of water attenuation chambers.

Environmental credentials

The product’s recycled polymer content and environmental credentials are a big selling point for customers. This is a plastic that previously would have been landfilled, so by being given a second life as a useful, sustainable and commercially-viable product, it is a great example of circular economy principles.

The clients appreciate our expertise in overcoming considerable technical challenges to deliver commercially-viable products using material that is ‘fit for purpose’. They also appreciated our involvement at every stage of the process, including attendance at all the trials. This inspires confidence in both parties that our material is going into a product that works.

Ultimately, we fully achieved the clients’ objectives of proving the concept of swapping from virgin material to recycled polymer for their products. The products work well, work above the specification limit, have passed all external tests and – just as importantly – sell well.

Going forward, our clients have seen the potential for using recycled content and can consider the option of further developing and investing in their products, including new injection-moulding tools. For our part, we have demonstrated how we can work with clients, helping them technically and commercially to realise their sustainable product visions.

Keep kerbside collections simple to boost recycling rates

Easy kerbside collections for consumers that focus on consistent quality are essential if the UK is to boost plastics recycling rates and meet current targets.

Investment in infrastructure is also needed to enable the collection of a wider range of plastic packaging at the kerbside as that is the only way to achieve the volumes required for successful recycling, says Richard McKinlay, Axion’s Head of Circular Economy.

The UK Plastics Pact, which aims to deliver a circular economy for plastics, sets out four defined targets by 2025 to tackle the issue of plastic waste across the entire supply chain. Key targets state that 70% of plastics packaging is effectively recycled or composted with a 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

Responding to current Government consultation on ‘Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England’, Richard states: “While it’s good to have ambitious targets, without a shift in focus and investment in infrastructure, these targets won’t be reached.

“In the UK we are using the existing infrastructure which was designed around the economics of recycling. In Belgium, they have taken a decision that their existing facilities are no longer fit for purpose and have invested in multiple new plants to recycle plastic packaging. This radical step change is likely the only way to achieve our targets.

“Consumers are being bombarded with new bespoke collection scheme options. While these models work well for businesses, they are not always suitable for consumers and few are likely to participate. We need to recycle at the kerbside and keep it simple to avoid confusion.”

To get more consistent collections, the focus of the message should be changed to encourage collecting all packaging types, but of a better quality, he suggests: “Communicating that packaging needs to be empty, not stacked, not contaminated and crushed, where possible, rather than focusing on the particular types of packaging could yield higher volumes of material at a higher quality.”

Looking ahead, a ‘full reform’ of the recycling infrastructure is needed to tackle all types of packaging waste, including pots tubs and trays (PTT) as well as plastic film. Richard explains: “Our existing recycling facilities were designed some time ago and based around the value of materials then, such as PET and HDPE bottles. Trying to process different materials as well, such as PTT is not going to work and results in lower quality outputs, that end up being exported.

“The aim of recycling is changing from being a profitable business in its own right to tackling the growing volumes of waste and a desire to recycle. Through Extended Producer Responsibility the economic landscape will change, and so must the infrastructure.”

With markets in the Far East closing their doors to UK-exported mixed plastic waste, Richard says the focus should be on the consistent quality of collected materials for recycling. Hence the need to invest in plants capable of sorting all packaging formats collected at the kerbside to achieve volumes to justify the investment in recycling infrastructure.

Richard adds: “In addition to consistency in collections, a consistent process design for sorting plants should also be considered. This would entail all facilities being built to a basic, common specification and using certain processes to achieve a standard specification of output, or, preferably, better.

“Consumers will become fatigued with the ever growing list of bespoke collection schemes for niche products, which collect minimal tonnage in an inefficient manner. Instead the focus should be on enabling the collection of all packaging at the kerbside, ensuring as much packaging as possible is designed for recycling and sorting this into fractions which can be recycled.”

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.”