[Article from ScrapBook No 5 2014]
Universal Recycling's main business is to buy scrap metal and waste and sell the output material. The company has however taken their recycling business one step further. Instead of using standard recycling solutions, they have created their own recycling system consisting of single Eldan machines. Depending on the type of input, material is transported between suitable machines to get the desired output. Hereby, the machines can be used for processing different types of material.
Generations in the scrap industry
The foundation to what today is Universal Recycling Company was set over 70 years ago. In the early 1900’s, Charles Arthur Hughe was involved in trading scrap on a part time basis. At the end of Second World War his son, Charlie Hughes , became fully involved in the industry by founding the company and started to process and recycle rags. The recycling of rags and some steel scrap, formed the foundation of Universal Recycling. Over the past 70 years, much has happened at Universal Recycling. The company has left the rag industry, and focused on metal trading and recycling. Today the main business is to process aluminium, copper cable (lead covered, steel armoured as well as jelly filled) and electronic waste. The company is still family owned and managed, currently employing three generations of Hughes.
Charlie Hughes has worked at the company since it was founded. At that time he was 16. Currently, at the age of 83, he is still active within the company but has turned over the everyday tasks to two of his children; John Hughes and Lisa Pickering. Lisa is head of accounts, and focuses on the financial issues of the company, while John is managing director and handles the commercial parts of the company. John’s son, James Hughes, also work within the company, mainly buying and selling material, but also handle shipping at his father’s side. Lisa’s son, Charles Pickering, is responsible for buying material and the company marketing.
From soft to hard cash
In the middle of the 1970’s Universal Recycling caught attention to the rising piles of waste cable, and the continuously increasing metal prices. The business potential within this field made them investigate the market for equipment which could turn this pile of waste into valuable material.
Through Morrison Marshall & Hill Ltd (today known as MMH Recycling Systems Ltd.), who specialise in providing new and used recycling equipment to customers worldwide, Universal Recycling got in contact with Eldan Recycling equipment. In 1974 they purchased their first cable stripper (M3) from Eldan (then entitled Laursens Maskinfabrik) for their facility in Doncaster. “The first piece of equipment we purchased from Eldan was a cable stripper. The machine and I basically started to work at the company at the same time, and still today the both of us are still running better than ever. Little did we know back then that the acquiring of that machine would be the beginning of a long mutual relationship” says John.
Over the years the company has expanded, locations have been changed, and most of the equipment has been added little by little. Today Universal Recycling Co. has for example the following equipment from Eldan;
- 5 pcs of Cable Strippers (M3)
- 3 pcs of Cable Strippers (M6)
- 2 pcs of ACSR (aluminium conductor steel reinforced) cable shear (M16)
- 1 pcs of Overband Magnet (DM1850))
- 1 pcs of Rasper (R800)
- 1 pcs of Rasper (R1200/R800)
- 2 pcs of Heavy Rasper (HR162)
- 1 pcs of Ring Shredder (S1500)
- 2 pcs of Super Chopper (SC1412)
- 1 pcs of Super Chopper-II (SC2118-II)
- 1 pcs of Pre-Granulator (PG1200-3)
- 1 pcs of Fine Granulator (FG1504)
- 1 pcs of Jelly/Greasy Cable Recycling Plant
- 1 pcs of Cable Granulation Line (including Silo (type V4 and SMV), Heavy Granulator (HG209), Fine Granulator (FG1504), Separation Table (C26) and Classifier (PC15))
- 1 pcs of WEEE Granulation Line (including three pcs of Silo (type V4 and SMV), Heavy Granulator (HG209), Overband Magnet (DM1850), two pcs of Heavy Granulator (HG129), Separation Table (C26) and Classifier (PC15T)
The majority of the equipment has been purchased as single machines, and not as standard plants which is usually the case with Eldan customers. The facilities which Universal Recycling has built up are better described as flexible recycling systems than regular recycling lines. The machines and granulation lines are used as separate units, and they are used for all different types of material received. The characteristics of the material (hardness, quantity etc.) decide which machines are used in order to produce the desired output size and quality. “This way of using the equipment makes us very versatile to the customers, and the plant is very flexible. The basic equipment is the Super Chopper-II and the Ring Shredder, and then the material merely goes on through the equipment depending on the material” says Charles. “We know that we have a unique concept here, but for us this is the natural way of using the equipment. It is all about getting to know the equipment, and what it can do for you.”
After more than 70 years within the recycling industry it would be interesting to know what the largest change within the industry has been. One would imagine it would be being to recycle more kinds of materials, or being able to separate them more thoroughly, but the answer is not that obvious. Charlie has an immediate answer: “The women are the largest change within the industry! When we got into the industry, much of the work in recycling was heavy manual labour. Since then there has been so much development in the equipment aiding this process, that the work is not as heavy today. The factory and lorry work is today pretty much as open for women as for men.”
Processing cable, aluminium and electronic waste
Within cable recycling Universal Recycling sell and process all types of aluminium, copper and lead covered cables into high quality granulated products such as PVC and copper granules. The cable stripping equipment is able to produce high quality copper wire mainly from lead covered copper cables. The stripping machines separate the copper, plastic, and paper coverings so that the lead can be sent out to clients at the highest quality. Universal Recycling can also recycle jelly/greasy cables.
The company moreover buys and sells aluminium scrap in any form and quantity. At the two recycling facilities they are able to process larger quantities of aluminium scrap for both UK and international markets.
Since computer recycling is regulated by the Data Protection Act 1998 WEEE (Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment) directive to ensure secure disposal of sensitive information, as well as by the WEEE directive to ensure environmental efficiency, there are many regulations which have to be fulfilled in order to be a licenced computer recycler. Universal Recycling recycle all types of computers and other electronic equipment legally and fittingly. The electronic waste is downsized and separated into its core components (metallic, plastic and ferrous) utilising the air and water separation plants. The output material is then further processed at the facility.
One of the main goals for Universal Recycling is to maximize reclamation, and at the same time making minimal impact on the environment. They achieve this by effectively recovering all plastic and ferrous metals.
Listen, learn, develop, listen, customise…
The relationship between Eldan and Universal Recycling is build upon sincerity and service. “We have a great relationship with Eldan and our primary contact, Jan Kjær. Eldan listens, learns, develops and customises according to our needs and wants. We know that Jan would never make a promise that he can not keep, and this makes us feel safe with the company” says John.
Having been in business with each other for more than 35 years, the feedback which Eldan can receive from Universal Recycling in regards to the equipment and service is of utter importance. “The Super Chopper-II is our favourite machine, and we have renamed it “Charlie’s Chopper”. It was actually developed by Eldan together with Universal Recycling” says Charlie. “I remember seeing a first prototype of it, which basically consisted of two regular Super Choppers put together. When we test ran it the first time, my immediate response was We buy it. It has been running like clockwork since.”
Charlie and John are thorough in pointing out that they do regular maintenance on the equipment. “A break down on the equipment is expensive for us since we run it 12 or 24 hours a day. Great and reliable service from our business partners is therefore of utter importance. We need to know that service personnel or spare parts basically are already on its way if production stops” says John. “I mean, you would never buy a Ferrari and not do service on it regularly. We have some of the Eldan equipment which has been up and running for 20-25 up to 35 years, and it still looks good and run well.”
“Since Universal Recycling can run the different materials parallel, it is basically possible to run all of the equipment at the same time. You can not find Eldan machines working harder anywhere else” says Jan Kjær, product manager at Eldan Recycling. “It is impressive to watch!”
The Jelly Cable Recycling Plant was also developed by Eldan together with Universal Recycling. Charlie and the former managing director and owner of Eldan, Steen Laursen, developed it together at the previous Universal Recycling facility in Newcastle. “If we found things on the plant which could be improved, we told Eldan and they made modifications accordingly” says John.
Today Universal Recycling has at least 22 machines and 2 additional plants from Eldan. “Since they basically have all of our equipment; Cable Strippers, Raspers, Super Choppers, Granulators, Separation Tables etc. – we often use them as a reference plant. It is also particularly interesting to show our customers a different way of processing material. Not merely putting it into the line at one end, and getting the separated material in the other. Depending on the material, they use the equipment needed to get the best end result” says Jan.
Practice makes perfect
Today Universal Recycling process approximately 6,500 ton scrap per month. The main business is cable processing, which accounts for approximately 850 ton of scrap cable weekly. 400 ton of the weekly processed material is aluminium and the rest, approximately 350 ton weekly is WEEE. The cable and WEEE granulation parts of the plant are run 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. The shredding and chopping part of the plant is due to a higher capacity merely run 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. They have two locations, in Yorkshire and Lancashire, which are used as both scrap yards and recycling facilities. Each month the material turnover is approximately 7,000 ton.
The competition for collecting cable, aluminium and WEEE scrap in the UK is very intense. “In contrast to the few large recyclers which are common in for example Germany, there are many smaller recyclers in the UK, which all take a small piece of the large recycling cake. I think a main reason for this is that UK and Ireland are islands, and therefore it is not as easy to trade large quantities of material with the main land Europe” says John. “Since the amount of material to recycle is limited, companies might be hesitant to make a large investment which a high capacity recycling plant means.”
Being able to put such a large facility together, as Universal Recycling has, requires a large investment. This has been possible due to the company making sure that the profit is reinvested. All profit gained through the company has been reinvested in the recycling facilities or properties. The investments have paid off, and even though the competition is tough, it is going very well for Universal Recycling. At the moment they have 20 Universal Recycling trucks circulating over 300 pick-up points and customers across the UK. “By investing in Eldan equipment, we have through the years built up an efficient facility which enables us to process larger quantities of scrap metal” says John. “By running an efficient plant, with minimum treatment charges, we can offer highly competitive prices within the industry for scrap non-ferrous and ferrous metals of any type and quantity. We currently operate two scrap metal recycling sites which are both fully licensed. We regularly pick-up scrap from merchants and electronic manufacturers and have a standing contract with British Telecom. The output material is sold to UK, Europe and Far East.”
Community, experience and passion…
The secret behind a successful company is the people who set it up. “We believe that it should be fun to come to work. It is a family business, and even though most of the staff are not related by blood, we still want to have that warm family feeling when coming to work” says Charlie. “You can say that community, experience and passion are the foundations of Universal Recycling.”
Lisa Davey has been working as an Account Manager for the past 5 years and really enjoys coming to work. “It is a really great feeling coming to work knowing that the people who you meet there are not only your colleagues, but also your friends. This feeling of community also actually pays off. During the years I have been working here, the company has grown a lot. I think that the size of the company has doubled during that time!”
“In regards to purchasing material, we have become more aggressive in order to get the material we want. At the moment electronic waste is the most important recycling area for us. Cable recycling is however an easier area, with a good return on investment. We also get more aluminium now than previously” says James. “We are very versatile in which material we can accept.”
“...you would never buy a Ferrari and not do service on it regularly. We have some of the Eldan equipment which has been up and running for 20-25 up to 35 years, and it still looks good and works well.” John Hughes
By combining passion with experience they have been successful in reducing the amount of waste sent to waste treatment (i.e. landfill). “We have tried to minimize the waste we send to waste treatment – i.e. landfill. Both my mother and I are very interested in horses and riding, and through that passion, and the right connections, we discovered that the previously discarded waste from the jelly cable plant could actually be used as artificial ground for horses at arenas. Mixed with wax it becomes a product which is outstanding for that purpose, and superior to others on the market” says James. “We also use plastic from the cables and the PVC bi-products as moulding for traffic cones. By merely combining our passion and curiosity, we have succeeded in lowering the amount sent to waste treatment to approximately 1% of the incoming waste. We save money on the material which we do not have to pay to get rid off, and earn money on the products which we do sell!”
James certainly knows what he is talking about, as he has represented England at international level several times in show jumping events. The equestrian surfaces are designed to help prevent freezing in cold weather and are suitable to mix with sand for application in both indoor and outdoor arenas and gallops. The company supply this material to many of the largest equestrian surface specialists in the UK, as well as to the public on a large scale.