Recycling more material from products at the end of their life – from rails and girders to cars and washing machines – is the aim of a Swansea-led team who are planning to build a new high-tech sorting plant, and calling for industry support.
Separating and sorting materials effectively is vital in boosting recycling rates and cutting waste.
This is easier with products made of a single material, such as a steel drinks can, but much harder with a finished product like a washing machine that contains lots of different materials.
Although recycling levels are rising, new techniques and technology for processing and recovering materials for re-use can boost the rate further. This is where the new project, known as i-SPACE, comes in.
The project team’s aim is to build an industrial-scale pilot plant that can demonstrate the very latest sorting and processing technology and show that it works. It would increase the amount of waste that is recovered and recycled and turn this into new raw materials that can be used by steel and other so-called foundation industries such as cement, glass, ceramics and paper. It would also be a centre for knowledge and skills in this fast-growing field.
The first phase of the project, however, is to make the case for building the plant, to attract the support needed for it to go ahead.
The project is a collaboration between Swansea University and UK steelmakers. But the i-SPACE team are hoping that others – from the steel sector and supply chain and from other foundation industries that stand to benefit - will also get involved and help make the case for the plant to be built.
Steel illustrates the enormous potential benefits that could be gained by investing in better sorting and processing.
Steel is essential for a green economy and is the world’s most recycled material, but the process of manufacturing steel remains carbon-intensive if it is made from iron ore. However, steel can also be made by melting down and reusing steel scrap, a method which generates far lower carbon emissions.
The biggest source of scrap is end-of life products, from fridges to drinks cans. However, for it to be suitable as a raw material for today’s high-tech steelmaking, the scrap has to be high-quality, with the right chemical composition and – crucially - free of contamination from other material.
This is why better sorting and processing is so important. It results in cleaner better steel scrap, which in turn means greener steelmaking and lower carbon emissions.
It also leads to more recycling of other materials, whether other metals such as aluminium or copper, or other components such as plastic. Currently lots of this is discarded, but there is potential for it to be turned into usable products for other industries.
Richard Curry from Swansea University, who leads the i-SPACE project, said:
"Better sorting and processing of material is essential if we are to cut waste further and move more quickly towards a sustainable low-carbon economy.
Our project aims to provide manufacturing industries with a dedicated research and development facility that will develop a technically and commercially viable source of raw material from end-of-life components. This reclaimed material can then be used by steel and other foundation industries here in the UK, instead of being exported or turned into a lower-grade product, or ending up in landfill.
Our priority is to gather support to help us get the green light for the plant to be built. So we are very keen to hear from other organisations and companies in the UK Foundation Industries sector, to get their input and support for the plant."
i-SPACE is funded by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund through the Wales European Funding Office.
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