New uses for old waste

The grandly titled National Industrial Symbiosis Programme, which finds re-use opportunities and markets for waste from different sectors, was launched in July.

The idea behind industrial symbiosis is simple, but not easy to achieve. It is about taking unwanted wastes or low value by-products from one process and finding uses and markets for them in another.

As well as reducing waste and leading to more efficient use of resources, it should also help the bottom line of both businesses by providing a new income stream for the producer and a cheap source of raw materials for the consumer.

NISP started 18 months ago as a regional initiative in the West Midlands, and rapidly expanded to cover Scotland and then Yorkshire and Humberside. In July, the programme set up eight more regional networks covering the rest of England and Wales. It is funded by the Government's Business Resource Efficiency and Waste (BREW) programme with money from the landfill tax.

NISP manages a database with details of wastes that companies want to dispose of and resource needs that companies want to fill. "We're like a marriage broker," explained Kim Kimkeran, NISP's database manager. Companies simply enter details of what they have or what they want and leave it to the computer to do the rest. The database informs companies when they receive a match and, if they want to take it further, NISP's regional coordinator can bring them together. Until this point all postings are anonymous.

The database holds details of nearly 800 waste streams and Ms Kimkeran expects this to expand dramatically as the programme rolls out nationwide.

In the past 18 months the initiative has secured some notable successes. It claims to have helped to divert some 515,000 tonnes of waste from landfill and to have been instrumental in securing over £20 million of investment in reprocessing plant.

Examples of its projects include:

  • Glacier ARM provides raw materials such as alumina, iron, lime and silica
    to cement manufacturers. These minerals are also common waste materials from many processes including the automotive, petrochemicals and paper industries. NISP has helped Glacier to identify over 80 waste materials which can be processed and turned into raw materials for the cement industry. These include around 3,500 tonnes of foundry sand and 1,000 tonnes of waste treatment cake from the automotive industry; 15,000 tonnes of alumina and iron water treatment cake from the water industry; and 20,000 tonnes of paper sludge incineration ash from paper mills.

  • NISP matched up electronics company Maxell
    with JB Recovery to retrieve silver from the two tonnes of slim-line batteries the company disposes of each year. Using electrochemistry, JB Recovery can turn the two tonnes of special waste into around 800kg of silver worth about £100 per kg, saving Maxell money on waste disposal costs and delivering an income stream.

  • WRE Services, which operates incinerators in Shropshire and Nottingham, currently sends around 1,000 tonnes of incinerated bone ash from culled cattle to landfill annually. The ash is mainly calcium based salt which NISP has worked out could be used in brick-making. As a result, Staffordshire-based company Akristos is conducting trials using the material and will scale up to a full plant assessment in the near future. If they are successful - and the signs are good - NISP says around 25,000 tonnes of animal incineration ash could be diverted from landfill per year.

  • Animal renderer John Pointon and Sons in Staffordshire processes around 200,000 tonnes of animal by-products every year. While some of the finished by-products are re-used, the company still has around 70,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal which it has to dispose of each year. This used to go to landfill, but NISP has hooked the renderer up with nearby Castle Cement which now uses it as a fuel for its kilns. A further benefit is that during combustion, the material generates calcium salts which are themselves a raw material in cement manufacturing.

    As well as managing the database, NISP also runs workshops and training events to help companies "think outside the box" and identify alternative uses for their wastes.

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