By Phil Gibbs, Director of Pure Planet Recycling
Due to extensive media campaigns and advice from our local Councils, we should all now know to take our broken electrical items to a local recycling centre. You know, the place we used to call the “Tip” where we threw away items and didn’t think about where they ended up? In the case of that broken old vacuum or kettle, up until a matter of years ago, it probably ended up buried in the ground. So now when we place that item into the container at the recycling centre, what happens to it and where does it end up?
The local recycling centre will store the broken/old electrical items in a large container until completely full in order to move as much as they can in one go. Transporting waste is both expensive in terms of money and C02 emissions, so a larger load moving fewer miles is the preferred option. Once the container is full it will be transported to a specialist recycling facility. In the world of electrical waste recycling this is known as an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF).
Contained within the electrical items are valuable materials that will help to create new products from the raw materials. The job of the AATF is to separate out these materials and recover them from the products. This is achieved by specialist recycling machinery in an almost automated step by step process.
Firstly electrical items are loaded onto a large conveyor, feeding the equipment into part of the site similar to that of a giant food processor. The electrical equipment crashes against each other within the machine causing it to break into smaller pieces which then come out onto another conveyor belt to be transported to the next stages. Now in smaller pieces the machine has to identify the different material types. Plastics are separated via air currents blowing them in one direction onto a different conveyor whilst ferrous metals are picked off by a strong magnetic current. Batteries and any other hazardous components are handpicked from the line for specialist recycling. All the while conveyor belts transport the separate materials for shredding as the last stage of the process. As the materials are now in small, separate pieces, the job is done and they end up in separate containers. This can now be transported out as a product for reuse.
This type of specialist electrical waste recycling machinery produces recycling rates around 97%, which is great. They produce clean and segregated material streams such as cable, mixed plastics, precious and non-precious metals. Using these recycled materials for making new products is a lot more carbon efficient than using virgin materials.
Electrical items such as televisions and fridges that contain hazardous materials undergo a separate recycling process. They are still processed by an AATF but not within the same machinery. This is due to the hazards they contain which require separate processing. The end goal of recovering the materials they are made of is the same, just with a different process.
When you next take your electrical items to your recycling facility you are both helping to reuse valuable materials and at the same time helping the UK meet recycling targets. Currently only 1 in 5 electrical items are recycled, we must help to increase this rate. So please take your waste electrical equipment to the recycling facility and help give the materials that they are made of a new life.
Phil Gibbs is a Director of Pure Planet Recycling, an electrical waste recycling company for businesses. He helps promote the benefits of electrical waste recycling in the UK.