Ask the experts: UK’s first automated compressor recycling system explained

At the start of this month, the UK’s first automated compressor dismantling facility was installed at the Envirocom recycling plant in Grantham, Lincolnshire

The new Compressor Automated Removal and Recycling Equipment
The new Compressor Automated Removal and Recycling Equipment.
The new Compressor Automated Removal and Recycling Equipment (CARRIE) safely dismantles the compressors found in refrigerators and other cooling appliances and is funded through a partnership between Envirocom and REPIC to enable improved standards for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling.

The new machinery will process around 10,000 compressors every week. This is expected to generate up to 28 tonnes of copper and 252 tonnes of steel every month, to be returned into manufacturing and reduce the extraction of virgin raw materials.

Environcom CEO Cris Stephenson (CS) and REPIC CEO Mark Burrows-Smith (MBS) sat down to explain more about the innovative project.


1. Why is it important that the UK has this kind of facility?

MBS: “Providing complete compressor dismantling and recycling services right here in the UK is essential to raising the standard of WEEE treatment. The new Compressor Automated Removal and Recycling Equipment (or as we’ve coined it, CARRIE) is fully automated and undertaken within a controlled, soundproof environment. This means compressors can be dismantled without compromising workforce health and safety or emissions to the environment.”

CS: “CARRIE is also a far more sustainable solution for recycling the UK’s waste compressors. Undertaking the dismantling on home soil cuts out the large and avoidable carbon footprint caused by exporting the compressors to other countries, which is what has been happening to the majority of compressors up until now. So, it’s important we have the facilities to safely dismantle complex items like compressors here in the UK.”

MBS: “There are benefits for the manufacturing industry too. When compressors are sent overseas for dismantling, the valuable metals within them – such as steel and copper – don’t get processed within Europe. CARRIE will maximise the recovery of valuable metals, thereby reducing the need for virgin raw materials.”

2. Can you tell us what has been happening to compressors up until now?

MBS: “With only two compressor recycling facilities currently in Europe (including this new facility in Grantham), the majority of the EU’s compressors are exported overseas to countries where recycling may not be undertaken to the same standards as within the EU. This means compressors could end up being dismantled in an informal and unregulated way – giving the potential for harm to both the surrounding environment and the individuals undertaking the dismantling.”

3. Why is a specialist machine needed to remove, dismantle and recycle compressors?

CS: “Compressors like those found in refrigerators, air conditioning units and vending machines contain ozone depleting gases, which means they require specialist treatment. When compressors are removed incorrectly, due to theft or uncontrolled activity, these harmful gases are released into the environment.

“There are a number of treatment facilities in the UK which can safely remove the compressors but specialist machines like CARRIE allow for the complete dismantling of the compressors. Thanks to the new equipment our Grantham treatment facility can now provide a ‘full-service’ dismantling and recycling of electrical cooling appliances, such as fridges – minimising waste and reducing the carbon footprint.”

4. How does CARRIE work?

CS: “The compressor is located into the mechanical jaws, which then hold the compressor in place. Whilst it rotates a laser tracker measures the actual contours of the compressor. The machine then spins around so the cutting blade can accurately cut the top off the compressor. The copper windings are then sliced in half and the copper core then removed by the windings extraction machine."

5. Which metals will be extracted from compressors by CARRIE?

MBS: “The two key metals found in compressors are steel and copper, which are metals found in many electronic products and components. This makes them valuable secondary raw materials, as they can be put back into the manufacturing cycle for new products.

“CARRIE is capable of processing up to 10,000 compressors a week. This means a production rate of approximately seven tonnes of copper a week. In addition, CARRIE can extract around 63 tonnes of steel every week.”

6. What is the future of compressor recycling in the UK?

CS: “We recognise that this is, of course, just the initial step towards ensuring we have safe and efficient compressor removal and recovery capabilities here in the UK.

“Environcom’s Grantham plant is not big enough to process all of the UK’s compressor waste, but we hope the introduction of CARRIE will set an example to the industry as a whole - to raise the standards of WEEE treatment.”

MBS: “We are proud to play a part in this initiative, which sees Environcom pioneer safer and more efficient compressor recovery. Our producer members will benefit from the new facility too, as it will provide an evidenced audit trail for a greater number of compressors.

“These types of initiatives support a circular economy, both the REPIC and Environcom teams look forward to seeing the positive benefits that CARRIE will have on our industry.”

To find out more about the new compressor recycling facility, visit the REPIC website.