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Biffa Polymers relaunches plastics recycling facility with new feedstock

A mixed plastics recycling facility has been relaunched as a polypropylene (PP) recycler to make it more economically viable.

Biffa Polymers’ Redcar facility in Wilton, which recycled mixed plastics from post-consumer waste, was mothballed earlier this year after feedstock difficulties.

Chris Hanlon, Biffa Polymers commercial manager told MRW: “We targeted overall recovery of plastic at 60%, but we were only achieving 25-35%, dependent on the supplier.”

He said this was partly due to an increase in the quality of material recovered in materials recycling facilities (MRFs), which meant that the mixed plastic feedstock coming out of them comprised mostly of less valuable films, plastic and food waste.

Originally designed and built in December 2010, the plant has now been upgraded to a PP recycler with significant investment in new equipment. It has been fully operational for one month.

The process requires MRFs to perform an extra level of segregation involving taking out PP from the residual waste. This extracted PP is the new feedstock for the Biffa plant.

Hanlon said it was a problem trying to put out the message to MRFs to have one further level of segregation to take out PP, which is a valuable resource. He said only a handful of operators did so and WRAP was trying to address this issue.

Owen Franklin, Biffa Polymer’s general manager, told MRW that the plant could process 25,000 tonnes a year, but there were only 25,000 tonnes to process in the whole of the UK.

Despite the feedstock shortage, it is seen as a highly profitable enterprise due to high margins gained from selling processed PP. Biffa produces PP at more than 98% purity.

Hanlon said that the cost to a MRF of a bale of mixed plastic used to range between £10 profit to an £80 loss (due to landfill tax).

Now Biffa polymers offers MRFs £200 a tonne for separated PP bales. The plant recovers 70-75% PP from the material processed and at this stage it produces 180 tonnes a week, according to Franklin.

The PP, which generally comes from pots, tubs and trays can be used for automotive, drainage, agricultural, packaging and construction purposes, but it is not currently approved for food or cosmetic services, said Hanlon.

Franklin said: “We are already running 20% above target; we were expecting to process 220 tonnes a week, but now we are processing 240-260 tonnes a week.”

Biffa Polymers has plans to expand operations further in spring 2014.

In a statement Hanlon concluded: “We have worked tirelessly to overcome the barriers encountered in the running of the plant. Thanks to the expertise and efforts of the Biffa Polymers team, we are now fully back in business at the UK’s largest plastics recycling site.”

Extracting Polypropylene

Mixed plastics that are collected from households are sorted at MRFs where different fractions of plastics are separated for recycling (e.g. HDPE milk bottles, PP-rich tubs, trays and pots). 

Polypropylene-rich materials are recovered from the mixed recycling waste stream and converted by Biffa Polymers into a clean, washed regrind flake ready to be used in various applications.

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