Knowaste West Bromwich plant to close


Absorbent hygiene product (AHP) recyclers, Knowaste, has announced today (22 May) that ‘effective immediately’ the UK’s ‘first-ever’ AHP recycling plant at West Bromwich will close as part of expansion plans. 

The board said that it has ‘outgrown’ its existing facility, which processes up to 36,000 tonnes of AHP waste annually. The closure has resulted in the loss of 14 jobs. 

It is now looking for a new recycling site in the Midlands to move to. It added that it ‘regrets’ that, as a result of the search, the West Bromwich plant will have to close.

Roy Brown, Chief Executive of Knowaste, said: “First and foremost I would like to thank our staff and customers, who have made this groundbreaking development possible and ensured that significant tonnes of absorbent hygiene products, including nappies and incontinence pads, have been diverted from landfill or incineration for the first time ever in this country. 

“Unfortunately, whilst we have proven the concept, the current site does not meet the future requirements of our business. These include space for additional facilities and extra energy capability to take advantage of new market opportunities.” 

He added: “Therefore we have taken the difficult decision to direct all future investment at an improved site to meet the company’s strategic objectives going forward.” 

Councils thrown into 'disarray'

Many local authorities, including Monmouthshire and Cheshire, use Knowaste’s plant to process nappies and other AHPs, such as adult incontinence pads, collected from households. 

Speaking on behalf of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), Chair Joy Blizzard said that current local authority nappy recycling schemes will be thrown into 'disarray' by this announcement.

She said: "Having developed collection schemes for nappies, they are now left with nowhere to recycle them. It's very disheartening. Knowaste is looking for a new site, but there will be a long gap before their future plans are going to be any use to local authorities. In effect local authorities are left 'holding the baby'."

Knowaste has said that it will be handling any AHPs currently on site, but will not be taking any further consignments. 

Recycling process 

AHPs are delivered to the West Brom plant for processing by commercial waste operators, including OCS/Cannon Hygiene, PHS All Clear and Rentokil Initial, which are charged a gate fee competitive to current landfill costs. 

The process then sees the waste fed into an autoclave, which breaks up the AHPs and sterilises them before pulping them. The material is washed and exposed to what is referred to by Knowaste as a ‘patented’ chemical treatment to ‘deactivate’ the superabsorbent polymers. 

After the moisture is released, plastics are removed, washed again, and then compressed into small pellets to make new products, such as roof tiles and fibre-based construction materials. Contaminants such as metals and glass fragments can be recycled and the organic/human solids are discharged to sewer for treatment at AD plants. According to Knowaste, 95 per cent of the material input is treated, with the rest being landfilled or sent to the sewer. 

According to Knowaste, the new site will need to have ‘space for additional facilities’ such as new ‘washing, drying and plastic processes’ and ‘extra energy capability to take advantage of new market opportunities’. It is hoped that the new equipment will enable the company to ‘generate a broader range of recycled materials from the feedstock received’. 

The process for finding an ideal site has reportedly already begun and the company said that it hopes the new site would be able to offer a ‘more sustainable operation’, such as being able to reuse the heat from the recycling process to dry the recycled materials. 

Knowaste said it would provide updates on its website relating to the search for a new Midlands location, as well as progress on the proposed sites in Scotland, South Wales, London and Manchester. 

Read more about the AHP recycling process.