Circular thinking: how the Wilton International business community is designing out waste and pollution

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At Wilton International, a growing ecosystem of businesses is reducing waste and extending the use of resources in exciting, innovative ways. It’s a form of circular economy that’s strengthening ties between companies, cutting down on landfill, and saving money at the same time.

The circular economy – for sustainability and business efficiency

A circular economy recognises that the resources we use are limited. In most cases, we can get more life out of materials by using and re-using them as efficiently as possible, whether that means linking up with other businesses to find a profitable use of by-products and waste, or designing goods that can be made with recycled materials. The idea of a circular economy is closely related to sustainability and being eco-friendly. But it’s also about making things as efficiently as possible so everyone benefits, businesses included. In a circular economy, we think not just about the beginning, middle and end of a product’s life, but about how to extend that cycle so that the same resources have as many new beginnings as possible. And when the time comes to retire them, it means doing so in a way that has minimal impact on the environment and doesn’t add extra bulk to landfill.

The business case for circular economy thinking

Efficient, whole-life use of resources can offer real benefits to a company’s bottom line, simply by reducing the costs of buying raw materials and dealing with waste. And there are other direct financial benefits to re-using materials for as a long as possible, such as avoiding Landfill Tax and regulatory costs. Increasing consumer awareness is likely to lead to tightening regulations, especially in the case of plastic waste, something many UK businesses currently incinerate or send to landfill. In the face of growing demand for sustainable business practices, companies can differentiate themselves from the competition and appeal to more customers by adopting circular economy thinking. And with greater public understanding of the impact consumer goods make on the environment, it’s likely to become less a nice-to-have and more a must-do.

Circular business practices at Wilton International

Many of the process businesses at Wilton International are embracing circular economy thinking, with tangible business and social benefits. Here are just a few examples:

Biffa Polymers

Biffa has invested significantly in giving new life to the UK’s plastic milk bottles. In fact it was the first company in the world to develop a commercially-available food-grade rHDPE from recycled milk bottles, an achievement recognised with a Queen’s Award for Excellence. Biffa’s Wilton International plant can sort and process up to 50,000 tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste, which can then be made into new bottles for the UK dairy industry. The company’s work has helped the sector progress towards its target of 50% recycled materials in milk bottles by 2020, and has been so successful that the plant recently doubled its production capacity.

ENSUS

Bioethanol is a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. ENSUS is the UK’s largest bioethanol production company, and the plant at Wilton International was the first of its kind in the UK1. Its bioethanol is produced from wheat feedstock which, having been used in production, finds a secondary use as animal food (providing an additional revenue stream for the company). The post-process wheat, known as stillage, is turned into high-grade feed for livestock and pets. Meanwhile a large quantity of CO2, also a by-product of Ensus’ bioethanol production, is recaptured and distributed to the soft drinks industry.

Nova Pangaea Technologies (NPT)

The NPT pilot plant at Wilton International performs a brand new, proprietary process that breathes new life into waste. The process, named Refnova, turns wood-based biomass, including timber, straw and crop waste, into a form of sugar that can be used as fuel. The company’s aim is to tap into the output of existing biomass producers and industries such as forestry, and turn their waste into a new source of power.

Power Minerals/Biolite

Currently under construction, the Power Minerals Ltd. plant has been conceived as a way to turn the fly ash from biomass power plants, such as the one at Wilton International, into fertiliser.

Set up for success: how Wilton International supports waste-efficient businesses

Wilton International provides a unique mix of site and logistics benefits that make it an ideal location for circular economy projects.

As well as uncongested road access, the site offers highly developed rail freight infrastructure - including the UK’s largest, private, on-site rail sidings. This means that large volumes of materials – potentially including plastics, RDF, tyres or metals - can be moved efficiently to the site for recycling. Liquid feedstocks can also be brought in via established pipelines, which connect the site to deep-water terminal on the River Tees and other facilities in the Teesside cluster. The same infrastructure is, of course, utilised for the outbound shipment of finished products.

Resilient power, generated on site, is available on a plug-and-play basis, and heat can be supplied at various grades for the processing of raw materials. Businesses can draw on a range of established, world-scale utilities including water, natural gas, compressed air and industrial gases – significantly reducing set-up costs for these services. And as a top-tier COMAH site, Wilton International’s emergency response is a key benefit for companies working with potentially hazardous materials and temperatures.

As the operators of Wilton International, Sembcorp Energy UK have identified the circular economy as an important potential source of investments to the site. In particular, waste-to fuels, base oil, feedstocks or other products, metals recycling and renewables technologies (e.g. battery cell manufacturing) are seen as key growth areas. Their message is that the site is ready for large-scale investments from these sectors, based on proven circular economy credentials.

see our short video on Circular Economy businesses at Wilton International

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