Reducing waste and the use of raw materials

Sustainable business practice is about making durable use of resources. TKH’s operational excellence program enables it to continually focus on the use of resources and reducing waste in the manufacturing process. Efficient management of materials and raw materials is also relevant because of the high consumption of valuable metals such as copper and aluminium, which form an essential part of the manufacturing process, and because of the waste that is inevitably generated.

Our policy is aimed at eliminating waste to such an extent that the impact on the environment is minimal. This also helps us avoid unnecessary costs.

We have adopted two approaches to this:

  • Quantitative: we aim to reduce the quantity of waste at the source structurally by increasing material productivity. By improving processes and by making innovations it will be possible to reduce waste streams.
  • Qualitative: we aim to minimize the damaging effect of the waste. This entails combating the depletion of raw materials by using recycled materials and optimizing waste treatment by promoting greater collaboration throughout the value chain.

Total waste from the most significant raw materials, compared with total consumption of materials, was 5.0% in the year under review, compared with 4.7% waste in 2016. This percentage rise was primarily caused due to the commissioning stage where we were in, in respect of the production of certain new types of cable, including those for subsea cable systems, during the year under review, which was accompanied by learning-curve effects. This causes more waste than usual. If we disregard this factor, we have generated 4.4% waste compared with total consumption of materials, which is well within our objective of a maximum of 5%.

71.4% of the waste has subsequently been recycled, whereas our target had been set at 50%. Our copper supplier reprocesses pure copper waste into fully-usable copper. So the figure for copper was almost 100% waste recycling. Plastics that have become unusable during the cable production process but are suitable for recycling are offered to waste processing companies with a view to turning them into new raw materials. Cables and odd lengths of cable are sorted as much as possible and we are looking into the possibility of completely recycling the cables. The same applies to the plastics used as insulation and sheathing material.

We are taking sustainability criteria into account in selecting raw materials and other materials, alongside price and quality, of course. Collaboration in the value chain also plays a large part in successfully introducing sustainable product innovations. We have become one of the chain partners in ‘100% circular use of materials in the underground infrastructure’. By working closely with partners in the chain we will achieve the innovations that are necessary to fulfill our ambitions.

In the year under review, subsidiary TKF developed a new recyclable medium-voltage cable. Sustainability assumptions in that respect are that the cable is easy to dismantle, has a low environmental impact and the highest possible percentage of recycled material. It uses filler material from our own recyclables and recycled copper. An aluminium conductor was developed by adding aluminium from other applications. This was a challenge as aluminium, in contrast to copper, is not a pure element but an alloy. In order to optimize a conductor it is important to constitute precisely the correct alloy. The cable jacket is made of polyethylene made from recycled and up-cycled consumer articles. As components have more technical properties and need to meet strict standards for safeguarding quality and functionality, it becomes commensurately more complex to re-use materials. Ultimately reliability, safety and the quality of the cable are still the most important conditions in designing a cable.

We will also continue exploring possibilities for innovative manufacturing techniques and efficiency improvements in the value chain. We have conducted talks throughout the chain on how to make processes and products more sustainable, so that raw materials and energy can be used more effectively and, as a result, savings can be made.