18 February 2021

Opinion: ‘Getting the most out of recycled fridges’

While fridges contain metal for recycling and much more can be recovered and recycled, reuse is also an important option, as Robert Sant, managing director of AO Recycling, explains. In this article Mr Sant explains the work involved to fulfilling the company’s long-term goals of a true closed loop recycling proposition.


OPINION: At AO Recycling, we’re proud to responsibly recycle up to 700,000 fridges every year at our plant in Telford.

With a reuse facility onsite and new plastics plant down the road, we take every possible step to make sure that we really get the most out of old white goods. Our customers know that when they hand over their old fridges, they are doing the best they possibly can for the environment.

Robert Sant, managing director of AO Recycling

We work with our logistics operation, who have 24 depots across the country, to collect old appliances from both our customers and the public. Our drivers can also take away the cardboard and other packaging for recycling. Once an appliance – be that fridge, freezer or washing machine – reaches our recycling plant, the team assess whether it can receive a new lease of life through our reuse department, or whether it is one for ‘Bertha’, our one-of-a-kind recycling machine built by Austrian company Andritz.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that reuse is the best form of recycling. Many of the appliances collected by our logistics team are still in good condition, often with faults that our specialist engineers can repair. Once the appliances are repaired, they can be resold at our outlet – we like to think of them as ‘pre-loved,’ with plenty of life left! Our reuse facility is actually the first in the world to be certified to a new standard for transforming waste electricals into reusable appliances. In total, we refurbish around 50,000 appliances every year and I’m so pleased that our trailblazing practices have been officially recognised.

Shredding

If an appliance can’t be repaired, it goes through our recycling plant where we ensure that no parts go to waste. Firstly, our trained engineers remove oils and refrigerants from the old machines for safe disposal. At the heart of the Telford plant, Bertha is a bespoke shredding machine which can process 100 fridges an hour.

Reuse forms part of the work of AO Recycling

Using heavy duty chains, the 80-tonne machine can break a fridge down into its constituent materials, including plastics, metals, motors and polyurethane foam. Dangerous gases are also safely removed during the process, including CFC gases in older fridges and pentane gases in more modern appliances.

As well as being one of the few fridge recycling plant in the world to collect 100% of harmful gasses released from a fridge, we’ve achieved industry-leading recovery rates for all these materials – all thanks to Bertha’s efficiency!

Plastics

Fridges typically contain plastics such as ABS, polystyrene and polypropylene, which can be really useful to a range of sectors if processed correctly. While we’ve been successful at recycling most of the material, plastics served quite the challenge at first. The next step was for AO Recycling to open a new facility dedicated to WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) plastics – it’s just down the road from the main plant. Plastic from the fridges is cleaned and refined to the highest possible standards, which can be transformed into new products. These are currently sold on as raw materials. The plastics plant recently celebrated its first anniversary and so far, it’s recycled the equivalent of 240 million single-use plastic bottles.

Closed loop

As a retailer, AO want to take responsibility for the entire recycling process and our investment in plastic recycling is key to fulfilling our long-term goals for a true closed loop recycling proposition. I am confident that it will not be long before the plastics we produce can be used to create brand new fridges. Across the business, we’re really focusing on making our operation as sustainable as possible and ensuring that the recycled materials can be used to create sustainable products is so important. We’re working hard on several projects which aim to fully embrace this circular economy and we hope to have some really exciting news on this to share with you soon.

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