Suffolk business sending 25 tonnes of recycled copper to China
- Credit: Archant
Sackers in Great Blakenham has gone global and is feeding the demand for copper and steel from India and China.
Standing on a viewing platform overlooking Sackers metal processing site in Great Blakenham it’s hard not to be impressed by the scale of the operation.
Below, giant grabbers claw at the piles of scrap like long-necked metal dinosaurs, loading a conveyor belt with car parts, air plane sections and domestic items which are whisked on their way to be processed.
The huge shredding plant that takes centre stage on the site is an incredible piece of equipment. The metal sections are fed into the belly of the beast where, I’m told, massive hammers attached to a revolving drum are used to smash each item to smithereens, separating everything. It’s a physical experience - you can feel the heavy destruction going on below.
From this initial stage, the different types of waste – dirt, rubber, plastic – are filtered out while magnetic and eddy processes are used to separate the different metals, such as stainless steel, aluminium, copper, and brass.
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Further processes refine the sorting further.
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Joint managing director David Dodds explains the process as “liberating different types of metal and waste and dealing with them accordingly”.
His brother and also joint MD, Adrian tells me the business is all about “extracting value from scrap”.
At almost £3m the shredder was not an inexpensive investment for the business when it was purchased a decade ago but it has propelled the company onto a different level, significantly increasing turnover.
Whereas prior to the shredder’s arrival the company was only able to break down large pieces of scrap metal into smaller pieces of scrap metal, today it can reduce the scrap down into a final product in shredded form that can be sold direct to customers
“We’ve taken one of the chains out of the loop and we can get it straight to the consumer now,” said David.
Recycling and reducing waste may have received a higher a profile in recent times but for the Dodds brothers reusing scrap is something they have been doing most of their working lives.
Based in Great Blakenham, just outside Ipswich, Sackers has been operating for over 90 years. The brothers’ father, Tony, bought the company in 1972 before retiring in the 1990s when David and Adrian took over the running of the company, which also operates a site up the road in Needham Market which deals in commercial waste. Today, nearly 90 people are employed across the business which last year turned over close to £40m.
When it comes to the scrap metal side of the business, Sackers gets most of its scrap metal from the East Anglian region before processing it and sending the vast majority of the refined material east to India, Southeast Asia and China where it is made into ingots and sold on.
And the raw scrap can come from any source - be it an individual with a few scrap items to commercial suppliers of scrap.
“We’ll deal with Mr Smith from Norwich Road, the man who runs a corner shop, the owner of an engineering factory, smaller scrap merchants through to larger engineering businesses and blue chip companies,” said Adrian.
In this global economy opportunities arise and Sackers has recently positioned itself as provider of recycled copper to the Far East with the purchase of a new piece of plant called a granulator. I’m given ear plugs before being shown around the new £750,000 piece of machinery, which carries out a simple but fiddly task in an incredibly efficient way.
The equipment is designed to extract the copper found in waste PVC electric cables by chopping the cables down into minute chunks and then using a series of vibrating tables to separate the heavier copper from the lighter PVC.
These two elements are sent to two separate sacks – one of the large containers, brimming with small granules of pure copper, glistens like the prize it is. I can’t resist running my fingers through it. David tells me the business is just about to ship its first 25 tonnes of copper extracted from cable to China.
Not too long ago China dominated the market in extracting copper from PVC cables but recent reforms designed to reduce its chronic pollution problem mean that certain categories of waste can no longer be sent to the country, including PVC cables.
“Prior to the reforms, China could process the cables much cheaper than anyone else,” said David.
“They were the market leaders by a long way, so no-one was investing in these machines. So as soon as China said ‘no more’ it opened up an opportunity and we’ve invested.”
David travels to China several times a year to meet with his buyers and also makes regular trips to India.
“It’s important we have face to face contact with our buyers to build trust - there are hundreds of operations like ours around Europe who are all trying to sell into the same market. For us, quality is key and we have to be competitively priced.
“All the steel we send into the subcontinent is used locally within India. Their GDP is growing at 6 to 7% - they need every kilo of metal they can get hold off. The same goes for China.”
I picture all this refined scrap metal on ships heading east and ponder at how the scrap metal business has been transformed in a generation or two.
“If we were sitting here 30 years ago, 80% of our materials would be used in British steel works and 20% would be exported,” said Adrian.
“That’s flipped completely – now probably 90% goes to export. There’s limited steel production in this country and every town years ago would have a foundry that would take the better quality processed scrap. That’s all changed.”