Using cable recycling to spearhead a new era of sustainable electrification

Nexans Blog Sep 17, 2021

Convinced that remaining a generalist will be more a weakness than a strength, Nexans recently stated its intention to become a pure electrification player at its virtual Capital Markets Day 2021. The aim is to power the next era of global electrification in an accessible and sustainable way with the Building & Territories division driving some specific initiatives.

As a company, our intention is not only to help drive the process of electrification, but also to take decisive action to reduce our carbon footprint. Not that the recycling concept is new to the group – after all, we started scrap recycling at our plants more than 35 years ago.

While Nexans cables are designed for long and reliable service life, they do have a finite life after which they will need replacing. Therefore, in the middle of 2010, we went one step further by opening a complete recycling service to our customers for end-of-service cables.

Responsible producers must account for their cables’ entire lifecycle to ensure they exert the lowest possible impact on the environment. Creating a circular economy for our global cable production means we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. For example, in Europe in 2008, we established one of the largest cable recycling units in the region while in Chile and Canada, our copper recycling projects are making excellent progress.

As an industry pioneer in recycling, our goal is to achieve 100% of production waste recycling by 2030.

Nexans Recyling Services

To provide a comprehensive recycling solution, Nexans established RecyCâbles, a joint venture with SUEZ, in 2008. It has since become the European leader for cable recycling and recovery. Last year, this unit treated about 25,000t of cables scraps. Target is to reach in the coming years the full capacity of 36,000t.

Whatever the cables’ origin, our site can process simple to complex cable types, from copper or aluminum to electrical or telecoms. The process involves advanced technologies that combine sorting, cutting, and crushing to produce 99.9% pure copper granules for reuse.

Some copper ores may be depleted by 2050. Creating a recovery chain for cables and non-ferrous metals allows us to secure resources by producing very high-quality secondary raw materials from waste. Nexans will be launching new technology related to materials included in our cables’ construction, thereby facilitating recycling even further.

Creating a circular economy

Our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy has the circular economy as one of its main goals. This model aims to limit the consumption of resources by implementing a closed-loop system for materials and resources.

By contributing to the circular economy approach, products and their parts are recycled at the end of the product’s useful life. Within the group, the circular economy policy focuses on increasing the use of recycled materials from internal or external sources and reducing the raw materials used in our products. It also involves the provision of recycling services to customers.

We engage with customers to contribute to a sustainable economy through ecodesign and life cycle assessment of our products. We also assess some of our products’ environmental impact at every stage in their life cycle – covering the extraction of raw materials used in their composition, manufacturing, distribution, installation, use, and scrapping or recycling.

To conduct life cycle assessments of products, we use the PEP (Product Environmental Profile) methodology, a recognized methodology based on ISO 14040 standards. In Norway, we have NX-drums where the customer can recycle cable scrap on the drum, after which we reuse the drum and fractionate the cable for recycling.

Waste management

A primary objective of our environmental policy is to control the pollution risks created by our business activities. We’ve analyzed the sources of pollution based on the key processes and the risk they generate. For instance, in cable manufacturing, we recycle the water used in extrusion cable manufacturing, filter air emissions, and process solvents using storage cabinets and fume hoods. Where continuous casting occurs, we monitor and process the smoke generated by casting furnaces and ensure hazardous materials like acids are carefully stored and transported.

We also implement specific measures at sites using potentially polluting products like peroxide, silane, and plasticizing agents, such as compound production. Furthermore, we’ve implemented numerous initiatives to limit discharges into water, air emissions, and noise and vibration.

Unique marking for recycling

A key element that delivers maximum sustainability and user-friendliness is our very own Lifemark™ label – a unique marking method featuring a complete content declaration on the cable sheath. This makes it easy for the cable user to sort and recycle end-of-life cables, minimizing waste and energy use. The technique, pioneered 20 years ago at Nexans’ Grimsås plant in Sweden, is now being gradually extended to other plants.

At Nexans, we’re well on our way to electrifying the future sustainably and honoring our commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030.

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