Finland’s Kuusakoski Recycling celebrates 100 years of processing increasingly complex materials streams.
Collectors and generators of end-of-life goods, vehicles and electronics as well as mixed construction and demolition scrap may believe these varied streams are far too complicated to be handled by just one recycling company. However, it’s just these sorts of complicated separation tasks that have become the collective specialty of Finland’s Kuusakoski Recycling.
What’s more, the family-owned international recycling services company based in Espoo must be doing this complex job right: Kuusakoski is celebrating its 100th year in business in 2014.
The company’s 1,400 employees working in 75 international locations specialise in sorting, separating and processing just about any material stream that can be recycled. While most of these materials tend to be metals, the commodities produced are by no means boilerplate, having been upgraded as they are for Kuusakoski’s mill, foundry and smelter customers located throughout Europe and beyond.
Today, Kuusakoski processes electronic scrap, end-of-life vehicles, construction and demolition materials and their related counterparts. From these varied streams, the company produces a variety of end products that includes ferrous and nonferrous metals as well as precious metals, plastics and refuse-derived fuels.
A rich history
Being able to survive through difficult jobs—and difficult times—is a trait that apparently runs deep within the Kuusakoski culture. Today the company is by many accounts considered one of the largest industrial recycling companies in all of Northern Europe and is certainly one of the region’s most well-known.
The company got its start in 1914 in the town of Vyborg, in eastern Finland, which was then part of the Russian Empire. It was a complicated time when Finland was struggling for independence, which it would earn just a few years later.
at a Glance
Officers: CEO Atte Kekkonen, CFO Leena Salo, Vice President of North Europe Petri Virtanen, President of Kuusakoski Recycling US Tim Bowers, Vice President of Metals Tero Holländer and Vice President of Sourcing, Sales and Logistics for Kuusakoski US Anssi Takala
Locations: 75 locations in 12 countries: Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Russia, U.K., U.S., China, India and Taiwan; processing facilities include seven large auto shredding facilities, three construction and demolition plants and about 15 waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling facilities
No. of employees: approximately 1,400
Services provided: industrial and commercial materials recycling of 2.5 million tonnes of materials annually, including WEEE materials, end-of-life vehicles, construction and demolition materials, tyres, plastics and refuse-derived fuel production; the company also has developed many of its own separation processes and techniques, some of which have been licenced to others
Kuusakoski’s rich history spans two world wars and civil war in its homeland of Finland and has coincided with the recycling industry’s dynamic evolution throughout the 20th century as well.
The company was founded by Donuard Kuusakoski, an entrepreneur of Russian descent who, according to genealogy records, had previously studied music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Kuusakoski started the business at the age of 24 when he began collecting iron, metal scrap and textile waste for resale to local industry.
For Kuusakoski it was an opportune time to be in business. The early years coincided with World War I and the Great Depression, when the need for secondary materials was great. It was then that the company’s tradition as a recycler of just about any available material took root.
In 1938 Donuard decided to move the company headquarters to Helsinki. The move was a smart one, because just two years later the Vyborg region was ceded to Russia. By the 1940s, Donuard’s business was building more international ties and, before World War II, Kuusakoski was selling high-grade nonferrous metals to smelting plants and foundries in Germany and England.
However, the company’s offices in Helsinki were destroyed by aerial bombing in 1944. Then two years later founder Donuard died unexpectedly at the age of 56.
His sons Victor and Rafael were determined to pick up the pieces and continue the growing business. Under their watch, the company continued to gain industrial contracts and to invest in recycling technologies, as it built its reputation throughout Finland and Northern Europe.
Kuusakoski experienced another turning point in 1948 when it struck a deal with the Finnish Armed Forces to purchase planes for recycling. That set the stage for the company to invest in industrial machinery and eventually to expand into the production of secondary aluminium.
In 1972 the company built its first auto shredding plant in Heinola, Finland, a location which remains the home of the company’s largest recycling plant.
Today, the company, through its parent entity, the Kuusakoski Group, is still owned by the Kuusakoski family. The group also owns Alteams Group, a sister company of Kuusakoski Recycling that manufactures cast aluminium components.
Building a culture
Over the years, Kuusakoski Recycling learned how to upgrade and sell just about any type of recycled metal or material, developing many of its separation techniques in-house.
The company’s current CEO Atte Kekkonen was appointed in November of 2013, having previously served as CEO of Taito Capital Partners Oy and of consulting company Oy Sontek and also as an advisor to the Kuusakoski Group’s board.
Kekkonen says that while his time at the helm has been relatively short, having served as an advisor to the group in previous years, he understands the family’s approach and perspective. Currently, four members of the Kuusakoski family still work in various roles for the recycling company, its sister company Alteams Group and for its board of directors.
Over Kuusakoski Recycling’s history, one of its tenets, says Kekkonen, has been the idea of not only trading metals, but also of increasingly upgrading metals to add value.
“The technological approach has kept Kuusakoski alive and doing a great business for almost 100 years,” he says. Today, he adds, “it’s even more obvious that the culture and tradition of a technological approach is getting even stronger than it was in the past.”
Kekkonen says Kuusakoski’s dedication to serving the local markets it operates in is also of particular importance in the company’s long-term strategy. And that is reflected in the company’s expansive network of facilities, service centers, collection terminals and joint venture partners throughout the world.
The company’s 1,400 employees operate in 75 locations in 12 countries. These include seven large auto shredding facilities, three construction and demolition plants and about 15 waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling facilities. All told, says Kekkonen, about half of its locations are processing plants, while the rest are servicing locations. Kuusakoski processes about 2.5 million tonnes of materials annually, with the majority of that tonnage, around 90 percent, comprising metals.
The company’s car shredding facilities are located throughout the Scandinavian region in Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Lithuania, while its WEEE recycling plants are located in the Scandinavian region and in Denmark, the U.K. and the U.S. The company also operates metal recycling facilities in Poland and Russia.
In late 2012, Kuusakoski inaugurated its Ekopark Gulf recycling facility in Lahti, Finland, which recycles construction and demolition materials and produces refuse-derived fuel for the neighbouring Lahti Energia Oy Kymijärvi power plant.
Kekkonen says while the company recycles all types of metals, the nonferrous sector has drawn a significant amount of focus in terms of technological investment. He also points out that the wide range of metals, plastics and C&D materials processed by the company naturally requires taking a technologically advanced approach.
In Europe Kuusakoski is recycling electronics, vehicles, batteries, tyres, construction and demolition scrap and waste-to-energy fractions, almost anything, says Kekkonen, with the exception of household waste.
According to Anssi Takala, vice president of sourcing, sales and logistics for Kuusakoski U.S., electronics recycling has become a key business area for the company over the years, starting with its earliest forays into the field in the 1970s, when copper-heavy switchboard cables were increasingly being upgraded to modern analog cables. Takala says Kuusakoski is believed to have supplied the first batch of precious metal from this stream to a smelter in the 1970s.
“We’ve been following that waste stream all along and, as society has developed in that department, our recycling processes have developed,” Takala says.
Toward that end, the company is continuously testing methods to recover more materials for recycling and to improve their purity. In the case of precious metals contained in the various streams Kuusakoski processes, “the quantities of different materials are rather small,” says Kekkonen, “so it means that the processing needs to be extremely precise in order to be able to separate those different materials.”
Kekkonen notes that Kuusakoski processes 100 percent of the materials it handles, a distinction indicating that the company does not simply trade or warehouse metals. Instead, Kuusakoski focuses on recovering and processing the various end products for sale to its smelter, mill and foundry customers located throughout Europe and beyond.
“Our scope is in processing, meaning that our culture and our DNA says that trading doesn’t provide enough added value, not in the current market and not in the long term either,” says Kekkonen.
One of the company’s recent series of investments has to do with handling the complex stream of cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in the U.S. and Europe.
Takala explains, “we have tried to work with the CRTs in different ways in different countries.”
To that end, in 2013 the company partnered with U.S.-based Peoria Disposal Co., to process leaded glass from CRTs. The processed glass is treated and used as landfill alternative daily cover (ADC) at Peoria Disposal Co.’s Tazwell Creek landfill, using a patent-pending process to produce a material called KleanKover.
Kuusakoski says the trademarked process stabilizes the lead contained in the material to prevent leaching into the soil. According to Takala, the facility has the capacity to process up to 50,000 tonnes of material per year, but that amount could be doubled should the demand and logistics warrant.
In the U.K., Kuusakoski’s approach to CRT glass is somewhat different. In late 2012 the company opened the joint venture business SWEEEP Kuusakoski in Kent with U.K.-based SWEEEP. The WEEE processing facility operates what the company says is the world’s first commercial-scale glass furnace and it is capable of processing leaded glass from CRT screens so the company can recover lead and pure glass. Kekkonen says the facility has the capacity to handle 3,600 tonnes of CRT glass per year. The process reportedly can produce one kilogram of lead from each CRT screen processed.
In another U.S. development, the company is currently building an electronics recycling facility in Plainfield, Ill., that is scheduled to begin operations in April of 2014. The facility, to be modeled after Kuusakoski’s electronics recycling facilities in Philadelphia in the U.S. and in Denmark, include presorting and categorizing, crushing, shredding and numerous upgrading steps, Takala says.
Kekkonen says the company’s European electronics facilities tend to include more separation stages than its U.S. facilities, such as inductive separation and heavy-media plants. Kuusakoski also has developed its own X-ray method, says Takala, for separating various grades of stainless steel and is developing new technologies for its existing circuit board processing line in Espoo.
One Kuusakoski facility that is illustrative of the company’s wide array of processes, Kekkonen says, is its Heinola, Finland, location. The company’s largest facility, it spans some 40 acres and houses a wide variety of recycling processes, including auto and electronics shredding and a large stationary shear. In addition to pretreatment and separation of e-scrap, the facility also has a pretreatment process for end-of-life vehicles, a tyre recycling operation, a construction and demolition line and a metals processing line. Furthermore, the facility’s heavy-media plant sorts nonferrous residue from the shredder, and its aluminium smelter produces secondary ingots, some of which are supplied to Kuusakoski’s sister company. The comprehensive site also has a nonferrous separation line for fines as well as a precious metals processing line.
“There are a lot of different operations and they can use parts and benefit from the close proximity to one another,” Takala says.
Today, says Kekkonen, as Kuusakoski’s business footprint spans a wide territory across Europe and into the U.S., the company is focusing closely on the results of each and every business unit.
“In practice that means that every person on each site or in each function needs to know their role in the value chain,” he says.
While the principals of the company don’t expect the European recycling industry as a whole to post much positive change in 2014, Kekkonen is optimistic about Kuusakoski’s forecast, pointing to its strength in electronics recycling as one of the reasons.
“Everybody knows the materials,” he says. “The key is [having] the right combination of tools and processes.”
In fact, says Kekkonen, in honor of the company’s 100th year, the real celebration is more about continuing on its path than about parties, though those certainly will occur.
“Our tradition is really to work and do solid business,” Kekkonen says, “to make this year better than the previous year, meaning better business and new innovations.”
The author is managing editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.