Plasterboard collection trials at household waste recycling centres

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Executive summary

Over one million tonnes of waste plasterboard are estimated to be produced each year in the UK from construction and demolition activities. Most of this waste is currently sent to landfill, even though it can easily be recycled. WRAP is working to divert plasterboard waste from landfill by seeking to overcome the barriers to plasterboard recycling. One area of its work is to encourage the recycling of plasterboard waste by developing markets for the materials obtained (recycled gypsum and reclaimed paper). This project examined the effectiveness and value of diverting plasterboard waste taken to local authority household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) from landfill and the processing of the collected material to recover gypsum powder for plasterboard manufacture and other end uses.

The project looked primarily at the wastes generated by home DIY from either new build or demolition projects, though some plasterboard waste generated by small builders was included at sites where this was ‘permitted’. Where plasterboard waste is accepted at HWRCs, it is usually allocated to the construction waste or general waste containers. However, there are few, if any, figures available on the amount of plasterboard waste currently going to landfill via HWRCs in the UK.

This report describes two sets of trials carried out by two companies, Gypsum Recycling UK Limited (GRUK) and
N.T.F.W. Ltd, at a range of HWRCs in southern England. The main aims of these trials were to:

  • determine the amount of plasterboard waste that could be collected from HWRCs;
  • analyse the inherent quality of the collected wastes; and
  • demonstrate the effectiveness of equipment available to recycle this plasterboard waste.

GRUK and N.T.F.W. worked with different local authorities to capture and recycle the plasterboard at selected HWRCs by placing a suitable container at each participating site. GRUK worked with five different local authorities
(London Borough of Bromley, Hampshire County Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Isle of Wight Council and
Wiltshire County Council) at 18 HWRCs while N.T.F.W. worked with one large local authority at ten of its HWRCs.
Kent County Council was active in promoting the project but the other five local authorities were reluctant to commit resources to publicising the new service at their HWRCs.

The sites selected for the trials served a range of social and demographic communities; they were located in both urban and semi-rural locations, with some large sites and some small ones, and varying throughputs. The most common restriction on the choice of site for the trial was the availability of space for an additional container.  Although having the same objectives and many common features, the trials carried out by GRUK and N.T.F.W. had several differences in approach (e.g. container design and publicity). An important element of the Kent trial carried out by N.T.F.W. was to test different communication methods to publicise the initiative. This included a site survey to conduct market research on users’ habits.

Both sets of trials ran for 12 months starting in spring 2006. The trials in Kent organised by N.T.F.W. Ltd in partnership with Kent County Council resulted in the collection of around 730 tonnes of plasterboard waste, of which 718 tonnes were recycled (630 tonnes of gypsum and 87 tonnes of C&D wastes). The trials organised by GRUK in partnership with five local authorities resulted in the collection of around 390 tonnes of plasterboard waste, all of which was recycled. Cambridge County Council started its own service after hearing about the trials through WRAP publicity; a further 87 tonnes were collected (and recycled) at three participating HWRCs in Cambridgeshire between August 2006 and the end of the trial period. The total amount recycled from all sites during the trial period was 1,195 tonnes.

It proved crucial to have the site staff ‘on side’ as they made the best ambassadors for the project, drawing the attention of users to the containers. The enthusiasm of site staff for the project was also vital in ensuring that the quality of the collected material was high (i.e. contamination was low). Bonus payments, training sessions and regular site visits by the project organisers to talk to staff were felt to be instrumental in encouraging operators and supervisors to take an active role.

Apart from site staff, the most effective communication method was deemed to be the signage used at the HWRCs themselves, though a dedicated website was considered value for money. The newspaper advertising Plasterboard collection trials at household waste recycling centres 3 campaign run in Kent was felt to have played a part in raising awareness (though incurring a significant cost) and a short video had provided an effective training aid for site staff.

Only 12% of those questioned during the site survey at the participating Kent HWRCs had needed to dispose of plasterboard waste in the previous 12 months. Of those who had disposed of such waste, 74% had brought it to a HWRC. Less than a quarter of those questioned were aware the site collected plasterboard for recycling; most of these people knew of the service from seeing the signage and the container on a previous visit. Most members of the public questioned welcomed the service and would be happy to use it if they had plasterboard waste. The success of the trial in Kent was demonstrated by the need to increase the frequency of collection of the containers once a month to two pickups per week at larger sites and an average of once a week at the smaller sites. Containers at the sites in the GRUK trial were emptied on request. There were no complaints about the main container designs used in the trials, though the Kent design suffered from problems in keeping the collected waste dry. The GRUK container had no such problems, having a hydraulic lid and a ‘letter box’ entry point.

In general contamination (e.g. metals, C&D wastes, plastics) was low and did not prove a major problem.  However, a small-scale trial undertaken by N.T.F.W. with collected material from Kent using a standard waste shredder demonstrated the need to combine separation with processing in order to achieve acceptable recycled gypsum. A second trial using a trommel showed promise but encountered problems with dust generation.  However, a third trial by N.T.F.W. and a separate trial by GRUK using a patented Gypsum Recycling International mobile recycling unit suggested that use of purpose-built recycling plant was the most cost-effective and environmentally sound processing method for the collected plasterboard waste. The gypsum powder produced by this method was accepted by a nearby Knauf Drywall factory for incorporation in its plasterboard manufacturing process.

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