Restoration of bins and containers can help build the path towards a circular economy

Written by: Emma Elston | Published:
Emma Elston, founder of container repair and refurbishment company UK Container Maintenance

Learning from the past will help us recycle better in the future as we create a circular economy, writes Emma Elston MBE, founder of container repair and refurbishment company UK Container Maintenance

Any old iron? Any old metal? For those who remember those elongated words, usually exclaimed at ear-piercing volume, they will evoke nostalgic memories of the approaching clunk of an old trolley – or, if you are a little more mature, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves – and the familiar face of the community recycler, collecting unwanted household items to sell on to local merchants.

In years gone by, these pioneers of recycling forged an industry from collecting and selling what was seen as ‘rubbish’, converting rags to fabric and animal bones to fertiliser, thus helping to create the original community recyclers.

Although the days of the rag-and-bone man have long gone, waste is still a fundamental aspect for many people in a variety of sectors. I believe it is time to look back at the original community recyclers for cost-effective inspiration.

In today’s society, our economy is still largely linear – we dig things out of the ground, turn them into products that last from minutes to a few years, and then put them back into the ground as landfill. This means wasted resources and costs, while damaging the environment with both needless extraction and disposal. Coupled with this is the mounting pressure on all industries to transform their corporate social responsibility policies to meet growing government targets and decreasing budgets.

Naturally I am a huge advocate of the circular economy, promoting the capturing of materials so that today’s stock is remanufactured or reused to become tomorrow’s stock, rather than landfill. This fulfils a circular business model designed to keep companies profitable.

With waste containers, the answer lies in the substantial cost-saving potential of unlocking the capital tied up in damaged units by restoring them to full working order, and in many cases enhancing the build at the same time to create increased asset value.

I believe that if there is a potential use for something, then there must be a potential worth.

Restoration and refurbishment

Typically manufacturers give containers a lifespan of 10 years or less, but we take great pride in restoring containers 20, 30 and even 40 years old. We are currently restoring a container from the 1980s.

Restoration and refurbishment is a fairly new concept in the history of the waste industry; metal paladin bins were largely popular in the 1960s until plastic bins were introduced during the 70s and 80s due to the low cost and accessibility of the material.

In recent years there has been a shift back to the manufacture and restoration of steel bins in the industry due to the cost-efficiency, recyclability and durability of the material. The use of metal allows the containers to be refurbished easily, which means a longer life for bins and a low-cost solution for businesses across the UK.

The Mk 1 1,100-litre containers regularly come through the factory in large quantities for refurbishment. These containers were originally brought out in the early 1980s and were made from thicker-gauge material than the currently manufactured, more aesthetically pleasing containers. The heavier-gauge material created a very tough, durable product that has proven it to last a very long time as the metal is much more difficult to damage when compared with plastic.

Refurbishing containers to a high standard will ensure you are protecting your investment for the future. For instance, we have an initiative called ‘Beef Up Your Bins’, which demonstrates the importance of strengthening containers. It was devised by our technical team to ensure that containers that have received an intense amount of wear and tear are treated accordingly.

Our specialist team identify problem areas that are in need of extra reinforcement such as front panels, rear wheel and castor bracket areas. These areas of containers often become weak when repaired, so it is important that reinforcing plates are fitted to the castor bracket areas and bash plates to the front corners of the panels in order to avoid the corner floor areas buckling and to prevent structural damage so that containers can be manoeuvred easily.

Collaborating with suppliers of innovative solutions, whether that’s purchasing remanufactured or restored products or carrying out refurbishments to current stock, not only works out cheaper but also has a positive impact on the environment.

As a company, UK Container Maintenance (UKCM) is extremely passionate about tracking and examining new ways to reduce its carbon footprint and uses a reputable environmental consultancy to monitor its own output and that of its supply chain. After all, there is little point in championing the benefits of being an economically aware business if your channel of distribution does not echo this same belief.

At UKCM, we invest substantial sums into the research and development of our technical services, ensuring that we maximise the potential of each container. This allows us to offer the very best service to our customers and, in turn, extend the longevity of their products without being sent to scrap. There can also be significant gains to be made in converting the waste containers and selling them.

I believe that we can all help to lead the way towards meeting tough government energy, recycling and landfill targets, dramatically reducing the UK’s carbon footprint.

Now more than ever, I believe all industries have a duty to play their part in the return of a self-sufficient community, with recycling led by prominent and engaging local figures.

We need to change attitudes across all industries, raising awareness of the fact that restoration and remanufacturing is far cheaper than buying new, and at the end of the day much more rewarding – in both CSR terms and also on a personal and ethical level. It is heart-warming to see that opinions are changing and industries are moving towards embracing their ethical responsibilities.

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