The Yorkshire firm at the heart of a recycling revolution

Recycling is big business and one Yorkshire Company is leading the way by designing and manufacturing recycling systems for the world. Neil Hudson reports.

When most of us think about recycling, it’s probably recycling plastic milk bottles, waste paper, and food packaging that immediately spring to mind but one Yorkshire Company is leading the way in designing and manufacturing recycling systems for all manner of things, from car dash boards to used plastic boxes.

Rotajet Systems, based just off the M62 in Wakefield, even helps the McLaren Formula 1 team shred its old car parts, to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands. Granted, it’s not their main line of work but if another company needs to make sure one of its products is recycled, Rotajet finds a way to make it happen.

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“Rotajet Systems can deal with just about anything,” says Colin Steward, 42, co-owner of the business with partner Carl Mason. “Our main lines of work are for washing, cleaning and recycling plastics and other materials. We build machines to enable others to recycle.” On the back wall of his office is a map of the globe, with little red markers showing locations they have exported to. They range from the UK and Europe to Saudi Arabia, America, Sri Lanka, Africa and Mexico.

Inside Rotajet Systems in Wakefield.

Last year, the company, which employs 25 people, had a turnover of in excess of £2.5m and Colin says they hope to double that next year. “Our order book is full up to the end of the year. What we’re seeing is a rapid expansion in recycling, with a lot more orders coming from abroad - 70 per cent of our market is export - but there’s also been a rapid rise in the UK.”

Part of that increase in recycling was due to the decision taken by China last year - known as ‘National Sword’ to ban imports of contaminated plastics from Europe. The ban has forced companies across the globe, who traditionally shipped unwanted plastics to the Far East, to reconsider.

“We’re building machines to recycle the boxes which are used by councils to recycle other waste,” says Colin. On the shop floor at their 40,000 sq ft factory, he takes me through the process, which begins with the old, food-stained boxes being placed onto a inclined conveyor, which feeds them into a shredder.

The pieces are further ground down, before passing through a series of washers and dryers. What comes out the other end looks like plastic gravel; even the water used in the washing process is recycled. “Councils have a drive to recycle, so now instead of getting rid of old boxes, they can be use the dry granulate to make new ones.”

But the big news for Rotajet is it has been chosen to work on the European Union’s ambitious Horizon 2020 programme, which is pumping €80bn into research and development to help create new industries and jobs by commercialising laboratory breakthroughs. One such is the recycling of polypropylene in carpets.

Colin and Carl founded Rotajet Systems in 2009 after a management buy-out from the previous owners. Colin has a background in chemistry, Carl in engineering. What began as a degreasing business - washing chemicals from containers - has metamorphosed into something far more wide ranging. Now they design, build and ship custom made systems, from shredders to washers, around the world and are in talks to have their products licensed for the manufacture in the USA.

Clients include the likes of Rolls Royce, the rail industry, BASF and paints companies such as PPG. They’re also proud to have offered a number of apprenticeships and have plans to expand production, creating another 10,000 sq ft of floor space, within months. “We’re seeing an upturn in recycling, with a major focus in the plastics sectors,” says Colin.

“There’s an appetite for it, which has come from the ground up and we have the expertise to enable companies to introduce cost effective systems which ultimately help clean up the environment.”