UK recycling boosted by Germany

Stop the presses! UK firms will have to buy German-made airtight shredding machines to dispose of millions of old fridges to comply with a new European law which came into force on 1 January.

UK firms will have to buy German-made airtight shredding machines to dispose of millions of old fridges to comply with a new European law which came into force on 1 January.

The ruling requires that disused appliances containing CFC foam insulate must be disposed of in a way that prevents the gas escaping into the atmosphere.No such equipment exists or is made in this country, which means the mountain of disused fridges is now growing at the rate of 6,500 a day.

The use of CFCs in liquid refrigerant and foam insulate was banned in the mid 1990s. Last year however, it was agreed the disposal of fridges containing the CFC foam insulate should be regulated from the beginning of 2002.

Industry now estimates more than 2.6 million obsolete units will need to be disposed of each year.

Graham Davy, managing director of Staffordshire-based recycling company Sims Metal said he expects to have the first nitrogen atmosphere recycling system operating in south-west England by July.

The machine plus its housing and other infrastructure will cost £3m and according to Davy will offer the UK’s first recycling service of its type.

‘It is programmable logic controller operated, and can process 60-70 units an hour, which is 300,000 units a year. We have an option on a second system to boost capacity up to 600,000 a year.’

There are two approaches to disposing of CFC foam. Both use shredding, but one uses activated carbon filters to absorb the foam. The alternative is to seal the shredder inside an airtight nitrogen-filled chamber to prevent CFC release.

In Davy’s system, after shredding, the metal from the fridge is separated from the plastic and the foam by magnets. Both plastic and foam are then milled down to a fine dust and incinerated.

The company opted for the nitrogen atmosphere because it wanted to ensure it implemented the toughest recommended guidelines.

These also include airlocks and time locks for access to the airtight recycling system. In the event of a malfunction, air can be pumped into the chamber to avoid the need for breathing apparatus. These guidelines were set down by the Department of the Environment’s consultants.

Davy is confident that the multi-million-pound investment is a good one. He expects a million units will be waiting to be processed by July.

But Sims Metal will face stiff competition from Dutch firms who want to offer a CFC fridge recycling service to other countries. Only the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden have recycling centres ready now. Twelve of the 15 EU states have been caught out by the law’s swift introduction.

Davy’s expensive shredding system will have plenty of work. The new EU directive for the recycling of all electrical products currently under discussion will ensure a steady supply of other white goods for the foreseeable future.