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Ashes to ashes - dust to recycling

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Ramboll Denmark
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Director Jens Kallesøe from Afatek grabs a ballpoint pen and starts to dismantle it.

“This ordinary ballpoint pen contains four different materials: On the outside is a belly belt and a clip, both made of stainless steel. Two pieces of plastic tubing hold it all together. Inside is an ink tube made of plastic. One end has a stainless steel spring, and the other a small brass piece, where the ink comes out. So we found two types of plastic and two types of metal with sizes down to 1 mm,” he says, now with four different pen pieces in his hands.

“Basically, you now have two ways of putting this into a circular economy: You can let people do the job of dismantling the ballpoint pen by hand. Or you can take the pen to a waste-to-energy plant for recovery. There, the plastic is incinerated and recovered as heat and electricity. This frees the metals, which can now easily be separated and recovered in our new metal sorting plant. This is both economically and environmentally efficient because we can do it on a large scale. That’s what we do here.”

Outside Jens Kallesøe’s small office on Copenhagen’s island of Amager lie mounds of ash from waste-to-energy (WtE) plants. In other countries much of this material ends up in landfills. But here at Afatek ashes are not just ashes. Jens Kallesøe and his employees recover valuable metals and mineral resources from this dust.

Few do this better than the small Danish company. The technology at the new plant can identify and reuse metals down to 0.5 mm, thus creating a new industry standard much better than yesterday’s 4 mm.