Recycling – A retrospective now and then, a look back over 30 years in Recycling

A personal perspective by Trevor Smart...

As we continue to move forward and improve as an industry, I thought I might share some insights into the trends and changes that have occurred in recycling.

My tenure in this industry dates back to 1991 where  landfill was king and recycling was strictly limited to small local projects and run by charities, still regarded by many as something of a minority interest. Of course, the tide has now turned and fortunately individuals who do not recognise the importance of recycling are now the minority. The efforts of those early recycling pioneers helped to create our industry which has now grown into a global business, become professionalised and has been transformed by technical and industrialised processes.

 As a young depot manager for Biffa operating a fleet of trucks and a transfer station when Landfill Tax was first introduced. We were faced with increasing disposal costs, so  in an effort to reduce landfill costs, I hired a trommel screen, which helped to run the contents of the skips and Ro-Ro containers through it, picking off any wood and metal from the conveyor belts.

Dramatic increase  in quality  was noted and the results were amazing.  Suddenly the skips started making money, good money. As a result, we invested in building a picking belt designed with durability that offered maximum production and the rest is history.

Fast forward to 2020 and the recycling plants look very different.

To compete and succeed in an increasingly recycling-friendly world, many waste providers, especially landfill-owning companies, have acquired material recycling facilities to try and keep influence over the materials that once went to their landfills Their size and complexity have increased over time to take into account the variety of material being treated, ranging from: C&D and C&I waste to MSW; producing high quality RDF and SRF; comingled and kerbside collected recyclates, plastics and paper sorting, recovering incinerator bottom ash to tyre crumb.

From these plants, the range and quality of recovered recyclates and materials has also increased.

Making a poor quality recyclate just is not good enough anymore. Our industry is now more aligned with end users such as packaging manufacturers, paper and fibre mills and energy users. Our recycling plants have to be good enough to meet these industry standards.

Thankfully, the technology we have at our disposal has moved on with the times. A pair of gloves and a sharp eye have been replaced with optical sorters, x-ray technology and eddy current separators. We have equipment specifically developed for our industry such as OCC screens, ONP screens, glass breaking screens, co-mingled screens, ballistic separators, single and double drum air density separators, zig zag separators, flip flop screens, specialised pre shredders and secondary shredders, channel and twin ram balers, bale wrappers, de-balers and now robot and AI. 

Where once we had to use ‘borrowed’ technology from the mining and agriculture industries, our sector has developed its own specific technology and techniques to service its own requirements.

This development has taken place at breath-taking speed where we have seen a rapid industrialisation of recycling. Some say this development has taken place too quickly, that the focus was on producing outputs based on quantity rather than quality and resulting in recycling equipment and plant being operated far beyond its capabilities.

Recent times have seen this evolve.  The situation in China and other developing countries has brought a sharp adjustment to the recyclate market and quality is king. We are seeing a new  generation of professionals pop up in the industry  rising up through the ranks  young people not from the waste sector but from process engineering backgrounds, taking the industry in a new direction.  This type of thinking this will continue to reshape the industry with new ways to solve environmental problems.

Legislation has been the key driver throughout this process: starting with Landfill Tax coming from the Landfill Directive which sought to drive waste away from landfill; developing into the Waste Framework Directive 2008 and Circular Economy Package and Environment Bill to name but a few. The recent draft Plastic Packaging Tax legislation announced by HMRC is ground-breaking and proves that the materials we recover, and process are fit to be used for its original purpose. That is real progress.

Personally, I am extremely proud to be part of this process of evolution at Turmec, which has nearly 50 years of experience in the engineering and recycling industries.

Turmec was originally a general engineering firm, a heritage from which it has evolved over time to specialise in the design and manufacture of market-leading, cost-effective, and high-quality facilities for customers in the recycling industry.

Starting in the C&D sector, the business quickly grew to become the market leader in the sector. Our milestones include building the first 100+tph C&D processing plants for Impetus, Suez and Powerday to process construction and industrial waste to recover materials and manufacture high quality SRF for power generation.

Turmec plan, design, manufacture and install the very best recycling plants to process C&D materials, co-mingled recyclates, MSW, plastics, incinerator bottom ash and tyre recycling. Most recently Turmec have built a 150tph C&D plant in Australia with a specialised dry wash process to clean up fines materials, further pushing the boundaries of what is possible in our industry.

Under the new leadership of Geoff Bailey, who spans an impressive career in recycling and waste services industry will lead us through the next stages of development in a global marketplace increasing Turmec’s position as a world leader in innovative recycling solutions.

It has been an interesting journey so far. We do not know what the future might bring but Turmec is excited to be part of it and adopting best practice.

Associated Businesses

  • TURMEC – WORLD LEADERS IN RECYCLING SOLUTIONS.A world without landfill! Turmec is determined to lead the way in reducing waste diversion from landfills. By executing this vision through all levels of our organisation, the company i...