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Feature: Railing against waste

When a business is in a highly competitive environment, every pound can make a difference as to whether you prosper or whether you fail.

Balfour Beatty Rail Track Systems has found that when it comes to making cast iron, mainly for the railway industry, being environmentally friendly and recycling waste can help it compete with Eastern European firms.

“We’ve made substantial costs savings,” says Rail Track Systems divisional safety, health and environmental quality manager Roger Rees.

“Foundries are closing at a rapid rate in the UK. It was one a week at one stage, and two of our main competitors closed last year. So by recycling, we have saved towards £100,000
a year. This has helped us to stay competitive, but
also allowed us to invest. We have invested in a mechanised line through these costs savings that makes us more able to compete.”

When the company looked at its three business units, it became obvious that the foundry unit was the main area to focus on. With Rees being environmentally minded, he and other fellow devotees began to look at ways they could recycle waste from creating the cast iron in order to help the unit gain ISO 4001 accreditation.

“It was striking that the foundry came top in terms of the waste it created and the energy usage,” he says.

The first action point was to try to reduce the use of sulphuric acid that was used to scrub out the cast iron moulds. A replacement chemical was found that was less abrasive and less of a pollutant. This also helped
to eliminate the use of acid and also the waste of this acid, as much of it was disposed of after use. It also meant that a fishy smell that covered the neighbourhood when the plant was doing this maintenance no longer bothered local residents.

The success in this led to Rees and his fellow workers looking for other ways they could cut the amount of waste and pollution generated by the foundry.

“We looked at the waste management streams,” he says. “We found that we had a lot of waste from sand and slag. The sand is used in the cast iron moulds and the slag from the crust on molten metal. Overall, we had about 2,275 tonnes of this annually and almost all of
it went to landfill.”

Although quite a lot of the sand goes through an attrition process, this can only
be done a few times because the sand gradually becomes rounded instead of angular and does not bond so well. Balfour was left with hundreds of tonnes of sand that could not be recycled. So what was the answer?

“We looked for outlets and contacted Tarmac Topblock in the Midlands,” says Rees. “They checked the sand to make sure it wasn’t contamin-
ated and see if it could be used in their products.

The company discovered that it could be used in high-density concrete blocks that are used for building and as a filler in tarmac road surfaces.”

While working with Tarmac, Rees asked if the company could do anything with the slag from the molten iron, which looks like a black, rock-like crust and floats on top of the metal.

“Tarmac crushed it and separated out the metal, which is then recycled and used just
like it would have been before. The rest looks like a crushed glass, and Tarmac found it could be used as a high friction road materi

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