The partnership between Knauf and Countrystyle Recycling was ahead of its time when it led to the construction of a dedicated plant to recycle gypsum board in 2017. Move on six years and the partnership continues to flourish, providing a model for how reclamation and manufacturing can work hand in hand.
As our society faces the challenges of creating a sustainable economy, a big challenge for manufacturers is that the underlying imperative must be to use less of everything. Doing this while still maintaining a positive economy requires the active development of closed-loop recycling – the process by which materials are reclaimed and processed back into the raw materials needed for manufacturing.
Gypsum is an endlessly recyclable raw material and the original agreement between Knauf and Countrystyle was set up to manage manufacturing waste from the Knauf plant at Sittingbourne.
The 5,300m2 plasterboard processing facility can handle up to 120,000 tonnes of plasterboard each year and uses uniquely designed bespoke machinery supplied by Danish company Retek Engineering to shred and separate plasterboard products. Gypsum is extracted and returned to Knauf where it goes straight back into the manufacturing process while the wastepaper is in turn sent to paper manufacturer DS Smith.
As Countrystyle is situated next to the Sittingbourne plant, it is straightforward to control the movement of plasterboard and recycled materials. The arrangement ensures that tens of thousands of tonnes of gypsum each year is reprocessed rather than being wasted.
Reducing manufacturing waste makes clear economic sense. The bigger challenge is to reclaim and re-use post-consumer waste from construction and demolition sites.
In this area the plasterboard industry has historically been something of a trail blazer, with manufacturers working together to support a series of waste recycling companies able to offer collection and recycling services.
Countrystyle operates one such collection scheme and its 150 distinctive trucks are a familiar site around Kent and the South-East.
The Post-consumer waste brings specific recycling challenges. Although contractors are provided with dedicated waste bins for plasterboard, the material that is received at Countrystyle still has to be hand-sorted to remove other materials and contaminants.
Knauf is a willing recipient of the gypsum reclaimed in this way, provided it reaches the quality standards required for its manufacturing. Countrystyle is therefore committed to producing reprocessed gypsum meeting the standard set out in PAS 109: 2013 (specification for the production of reprocessed gypsum from waste plasterboard).
All the gypsum reclaimed and processed at the Countrystyle plant is supplied to Knauf and recycled gypsum now accounts for around 8% of the total material used by the UK manufacturing plants.
This partnership is a textbook example of how collaboration can bring about positive change, reducing waste and, over time, phasing out the reliance on virgin material. With this working model in mind, Knauf is developing a scheme to expand the support provided to other site collection and recycling schemes outside of the South-East.