Recycling Lives

Award-winning KTP generates tonnes of benefits for Preston recycling firm

Challenge

Preston-based Recycling Lives was founded in 2008 by Steven Jackson OBE. The business, which employs more than 400 staff, provides recycling and waste management solutions for clients across a range of sectors, including local authorities, construction and private contractors.

It also uses its commercial operations to support and sustain charity programmes for offender rehabilitation, residential support and food redistribution – resulting in a wide range of environmental, financial and social benefits.  

As a business, Recycling Lives is committed to achieving the best in class recycling rates. The challenge for the company is that every year, they shred around 100,000 vehicles which have come to the end of their life, through their fragmentiser. This results in an estimated 1.2 million tonnes of residue which requires disposal. The company needed a solution that would enable them to divert this residue away from landfill, while ensuring that they met the European Union Directive For End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) with its recycling targets of 95 per cent. 

While the UK has previously been able to meet these targets, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has warned that future targets would be harder to meet due to significant changes in car composition and overall weight.

Solution

In order to achieve its objectives for reducing material going to landfill and to ensure the ELV targets could be met in the future, Recycling Lives embarked upon a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). KTPs help businesses meet core strategic needs to enable growth, by improving productivity, performance and gaining a competitive edge.

A team, led by Prof Karl Williams, Director of the Centre for Waste Management at UCLan, and Dr Ala Khodier, Innovations Engineer at Recycling Lives and UCLan associate, undertook a two-year study into how automotive shredder residue could be better utilised.

At the end of the study, through the provision of analytical support, laboratory facilities to carry out material characterisations, expertise and academic support in developing pilot trials, the team had developed a new thermal process to deal with a particular feedstock.

The process works by transforming the residue – made up of foams, rubber, fibres and textiles – into electrical energy, resulting in what’s known as a closed-loop recycling solution. The team also identified metals retained in the residue that can be extracted and returned to the market, therefore generating a lucrative income stream. 

Benefits

The outcomes of the KTP, which has been described as a ‘game changer’ for car recycling, have resulted in significant benefits for Recycling Lives. 

It’s been estimated that, by using the new thermal process, the company can generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity and make savings of £1.5 million a year – in addition to generating huge benefits for the environment through the diversion of a substantial amount of waste to landfill.

UCLan and Recycling Lives are now entering into a joint venture that will see their partnership building and owning a £670,000 research facility in order to commercialise the project. Recycling Lives is also looking to invest in excess of £7 million in the building two commercial plants, one in Preston and one in London. Jobs at the company have also been safeguarded, while the new plants are set to provide an additional 11 jobs.

In addition, the project was named Most Innovative Contribution to Business-University Collaboration at the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Awards. The awards, known as the ‘Oscars of higher education,’ shine a spotlight on the exceptional achievements of individuals, teams and institutions working in the education sector. Innovate UK also awarded the project ‘outstanding’ status.

Paul Finnerty, Legal Director at Recycling Lives, said: “The project has taken the company to the forefront of closed loop recycling within the UK. The company will be able to, on the same site, recycle up to 400 kt of material with potentially zero being sent to landfill, in addition to self-sustained energy provision. This will ensure the future of the company, safe-guarding existing jobs, creating additional jobs and maximising the social value which is central to the company’s ethos.”

Prof Karl Williams, Director of the Centre for Waste Management at UCLan, said: “The success of this partnership has worked so well that the University and Recycling Lives are continuing to develop other partnership opportunities. The outcome of this partnership has been transferred across the organisation in terms of research-led teaching and the realisation of academic research into a novel and bespoke commercial solution.

“This is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when an organisation links with an academic institution.”