IBC Containers: A Comprehensive Recycling Guide

IBC reconditioned

As businesses in the UK strive to become more sustainable, managing industrial packaging waste has become a top priority. One of the most widely used types of industrial containers is the intermediate bulk container (IBC), also known as IBC tanks or totes. 

This guide to recycling IBC containers will cover everything you need to know, from understanding what IBCs are to the proper cleaning procedures and the different recycling options available.

Understanding IBC Tanks

Intermediate bulk containers are engineered for safely handling, storing, and transporting bulk substances. Their durability and reusability make them ideal candidates for recycling.

Understanding the composition and types of these industrial-grade reusable containers is essential for effective recycling. 

What Are the Different Types of IBC Tanks Made Of?

There are three main types of IBCs, each made of different materials that require specific recycling processes: 

  • Rigid IBCs are the most common and recyclable type, featuring a metal cage and a rigid, durable plastic inner container made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. The metal cage and HDPE tank can be separated and recycled individually. 
  • Folding IBCs have a collapsible metal structure, which can be recycled as scrap metal. The inner container, typically made of HDPE or other plastics, can be recycled separately. 
  • Flexible IBCs, or bulk bags, are made from woven polypropylene or polyethylene. These materials can be recycled into new plastic products, although the process may be more complex than recycling rigid IBCs. 

How Big Are IBC Containers?

The most common size for a rigid IBC is 1000 litres, with dimensions of approximately 1.2m x 1.0m x 1.1m. Knowing the size and capacity of IBCs is important for planning storage and transportation during the recycling process.

Benefits of Recycling IBC Containers

Recycling rigid intermediate bulk containers offers several benefits, including:

  • Reduced waste: IBC recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and minimises environmental impacts.
  • Resource conservation: It conserves raw materials and reduces the need for new, resource-intensive containers.
  • Cost savings: Reconditioned IBCs can be purchased at a lower cost than new containers.
  • Compliance: Recycling IBCs helps businesses comply with environmental regulations and reduce the risk of environmental liability.

Preparing IBCs for Recycling

Before sending your IBCs for recycling, it’s crucial to properly prepare them to ensure a smooth and efficient recycling process.

1. Emptying the Containers

Proper preparation starts with fully emptying any remaining contents. Depending on the type of substance stored, various techniques may be required, such as pumping liquids or vacuuming powders.

2. How to Clean IBC Tanks

  1. The outside of the IBC must be decontaminated if it’s soiled. Pressure washing, chemical cleaning agents, or solvent wipes effectively remove exterior grime.
  2. The next step is to clean the IBC interior. This involves a triple rinse of the container using water or a suitable solvent, depending on the nature of the previous contents. 
  3. A high-pressure washing system may be employed to remove any stubborn residue or buildup inside the tank.
  4. If the IBC contained chemicals, a neutralisation step may be necessary to render any remaining substances inert.
  5. Finally, the IBC gets a fresh water rinse before being dried thoroughly.

3. Quality Control Through Testing and Analysis

After cleaning, the IBC must be tested to ensure it meets safety standards and is free of any hazardous residue. This may involve taking samples of the final rinse water and analysing them in a laboratory.

The Intermediate Bulk Container Recycling Process

Once your IBCs have been correctly prepared and cleaned, they are ready to enter the recycling process. 

1. Shredding the Plastic

The first step involves shredding the plastic tank into small, uniform pieces using a specialised shredding machine. This process helps to optimise the efficiency of the subsequent plastic recycling stages.

2. Washing and Drying

The shredded plastic then undergoes a thorough washing and drying process to remove any remaining contaminants and moisture. This step is critical to ensure the quality and purity of the recycled plastic.

3. Melting the Plastic

The clean, shredded plastic is melted down using heat and pressure in an extruder machine. The molten plastic is then forced through a die, creating long, thin strands known as extrudates. These extrudates are cooled and cut into small pellets, which serve as the raw material for creating new plastic products, including new IBC tanks.

4. Processing the Metal Components

The metal components of the IBC, such as the cage, are also recycled. The metal is first sorted by type, such as galvanised steel or aluminium, to ensure proper processing. The sorted metal is then shredded or crushed into smaller pieces to enable the material to be processed into furnance feed. 

5. Forming New Metal Items

The metal pieces are melted down in a furnace and cast into new shapes, such as bars or sheets. These recycled metal products can be used to create a wide range of new items, including metal pallets or cages for new IBCs.

6. Processing Wood or Plastic Pallets

The pallet base, usually made of wood or plastic, can also be recycled or repurposed. Wooden pallets can be chipped and used for mulch or fuel, while plastic pallets can be recycled into new plastic products.

Reconditioning IBC Tanks

In contrast to rebottled IBCs (where only the cage is reused), some IBCs can be reconditioned. This means the entire caged IBC can be reused. Reconditioning IBCs is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to purchasing new containers.

The process involves these steps:

  1. The IBC is thoroughly inspected to assess its condition and determine if it is suitable for reconditioning.
  2. If deemed suitable, the tank undergoes a comprehensive cleaning process to remove any residue or contaminants. This may involve high-pressure washing, steam cleaning, or the use of specialised solvents.
  3. The IBC is then inspected for damage or wear. Any compromised components, such as valves, gaskets, or fittings, are replaced with new, high-quality parts to ensure the integrity of the reconditioned IBC.
  4. Next, the IBC is tested to ensure it meets strict safety and performance standards. This typically involves pressure testing, leak testing, and other quality control measures.
  5. The reconditioned IBC is certified for reuse and labelled accordingly to assure end-users that it has been thoroughly cleaned, repaired, tested, and approved as safe for its intended use.

Compliant, Cost-Effective IBC Reconditioning with Packaging Reuse

Recycling and reconditioning IBCs is a vital aspect of sustainable business practices in the UK. To ensure these processes are carried out properly, choosing a reputable and experienced partner is crucial.

At Packaging Reuse, we specialise in helping UK businesses manage their industrial packaging needs sustainably. We offer comprehensive IBC reconditioning services to extend the life of these durable containers. 

Our team of experts meticulously inspects, cleans, and reconditions used IBCs, ensuring they meet the highest quality standards for reuse. We also offer a wide range of used IBCs for purchase, providing a flexible and cost-efficient solution for your bulk storage and transportation needs.

Our team makes IBC recycling, reconditioning, and disposal easy while ensuring full legislative compliance. Contact Packaging Reuse today to discuss your specific IBC recycling needs.