How we close the loop

Anyone who has ever melted their old tin soldiers to turn them into something else,or has followed the process when food waste turns into soil in their compost heaps will have gained some insight into the material recovery process. To El-Kretsen, this final stage where resources in the shape of waste are transformed back into raw materials, is the result of the work we have already put in.

It is also the stage where it is possible to judge the quality of that work. This can be measured both in quantity (how many tonnes of new raw materials we have created) and in the proportion this quantity constitutes of the volumes we have collected.

It can also be measured in quality. Have the raw materials been turned back into their original state or has something happened on the way? “Downcycling” is a recycling term used to mean that the recycled material has not reached the same high quality it once had as virgin material. In smelting plants, recycled material is sometimes mixed with virgin material in order to raise the quality of the processed materials. “Downcycling” can also mean that materials which are only present in very small quantities, like the unique metals that make up different alloys, are not returned to their old, pure form but become part of something else, like iron.

Recycling technology keeps evolving and today, many industries are working actively to reach the highest material recovery rates possible. An important part of this work is taking at all aspects of the process into account to make sure that the outcome really does end up benefitting the environment. In cases where a process requires the addition of chemicals or energy, we take these negative environmental costs into account and make sure that the gain of completely recovering the metals or plastics to their original form is greater than the costs involved.

Almost 100,000 tonnes become new materials

Material recovery returns raw materials to the manufacturing industry

Today, we are able to recover around 75 per cent of all the waste we collect. This means that we return almost 100,000 tonnes of raw materials to the manufacturing industry on an annual basis. This is metals such as iron, aluminium and copper as well as less common metals like palladium, silver and zinc. We also make plastics in the shape of polypropylene, polyethene, polystyrene and ABS.

Plastics recovery facility

Recovering plastics from WEEE has long been a challenge. Just like metals, plastics come in a wide range of products which all have different characteristics and qualities. They give products different qualities (like being fire resistant or having a particular finish), but they also complicate the recycling process. El-Kretsen has contributed to the progress of plastics recovery through long-term contracts and working closely with suppliers to create an incentive to engage in the development, investment and construction of a dedicated plastic recycling facility.

You can read more about this joint project with Stena Recycling here.

Cooperation for metals recovery

Recycling metals only requires a few per cent of the energy that is needed to mine new metals. At the same time, recovering rare metals is a very challenging process as they are present in such small quantities that currently, there are often no processes that make this recovery financially viable. However, at Boliden’s smelting plant Rönnskär in the north of Sweden, things are moving forward. Rönnskär is a world leader in recovering metals from electronics. You can read more about this at Sustainability Library