Big Atom using tyres to disrupt polymer industry
Just a year after the company was founded, polymer recycler Big Atom reports that it has “successfully disrupted the industry across the North West of England”. Big Atom says it is driving the UK to a sustainable future by kickstarting both local and national engagement with a circular initiative in the waste industry. The vision is to provide systems to realise a circular economy, effectively converting plastic and rubber waste into secondary raw materials.
Of course, the term circular economy refers to a flow of materials or energy with no beginning or end. Each end loops back to the start of the next cycle. For example, in the natural world where the top of the food chain dies, and its organic material helps new plants grow. Every result or product at the end of each process is the input for the next one. All waste is regained as a valuable resource.
In the past, polymers have either been recycled once then sent to landfill or used once and exported abroad, incinerated or leaked into the oceans. This behaviour resembles a linear economy rather than a circular one and contributes to climate change and pollution. Rubber and steel in end of life tyres (ELTs) offer a large resource which, if processed in the right way, can create substantial economic savings and reductions in environmental footprint.
Over 500 garages working with Big Atom in the North West
For its part, Big Atom has identified recycling of ELTs as a starting point to reach their circular vision. At their site in Ellesmere Port, Big Atom currently processes ELTs into rubber crumbs, which are then further processed by specialist recyclers into sports or playground surfaces. The vision of a ‘green tyre’ resonates with local businesses across the North West. Over 500 local garages and scrap yards have shown Big Atom their support within the first year of operation, significant enough to take the concept to other parts of the country. Expansion to cover the North East and Midlands is well on track and can be expected in 2020.
Striving for sustainability should not only start once the tyres hit the yard. Big Atom’s approach to opening further sites has a distinct benefit in reducing the miles our waste has to travel. This will become even more significant once their patented chemical recycling technology allows for all types of polymers to be recycled.
Big Atom’s process depolymerises waste into secondary raw materials to be used in manufacture of new consumer products. This chemical process reportedly improves recycling efficiency by 20 per cent compared to conventional methods and can achieve environmental benefits of 2.7 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of waste processed. Per plant this is said to equal the carbon savings of removing 8,800 cars from the roads each year.