An innovative national recycling scheme is celebrating more than 10,000 recycled hard hats.

Every year, the UK throws away several million end-of-life protective hats. The National Hard Hat Recycling Scheme is a user-friendly method for old hard hats to bypass traditional waste disposal routes, thereby ensuring end-of-life hats go directly into reprocessing. Three years ago, Yes Recycling built a bespoke recycling capability at its Buckingham shire facility specifically to recycle hard hats.

Although the company is no stranger to innovation when it comes to recycling everyday plastic items – it recycles plastic banknotes, crisp packets, coffee cups and shop hangers – the hard hat recycling presented some particular and unique challenges, not surprising considering hard hats are fundamentally designed to be difficult to destroy.

Nevertheless, engineers were able to overcome this: all hats are completely destroyed by being shred down into 10mm flakes. These flakes are then separated into their constituent polymer elements, washed, dried and then melted down and filtered. The pure molten polymer is then made back into brand new polymer pellets – which are the universal raw material format for all plastic item manufacturing. Thus your hats are fully recycled.

Since its inception, the scheme has seen more than 10,000 hard hats saved from landfill and the scheme now boasts about 50 members from a range of sectors and businesses, including construction, transport, utilities, defence, wildlife conservation, tree surgery and extreme sports.

Network Rail is one such company. Recycling its hard hats through Yes Recycling supports its environmental sustainability goals by reducing waste to landfill through the waste hierarchy. 'It is positive to see companies such as Yes Recycling investing in initiatives to support businesses in contributing to the circular economy,' said technical surveyor Sally Marquis. 'Maybe in the future, an old hard hat could be recycled into a new one and we fully support that process.'

Director of Yes Recycling, Omer Kutluoglu, has high hopes that this will happen. 'One day we hope that we can make this a fully circular process, where the recycled material from the hard hats is put back directly into new ones, but for now we are happy to assure all valuable raw material used in making hard hats is properly recovered and fully recycled back into British manufacturing at end-of-life.'