Gekås: Recycling on top of the agenda at the world’s largest department store

Gekås in Ullared is one of Sweden’s most popular and frequently visited places and it is thought to be the world’s largest department store of its kind. A department store with 4.8 million customers and sales of 5.3 billion SEK a year certainly generates a lot of waste and recyclables.

Inge Nilsson, responsible for the environmental policy and the waste management at Gekås, explains the company’s sustainability efforts, which include operations in the store and in the warehouse, as well as within the company’s network of suppliers. Through a variety of measures, the aim is to minimize the environmental impact of the business’s day-to-day operations.

The bale would be 3 km long

As applies to most shops and department stores, cardboard and plastic account for the vast part of Gekås’s waste streams. Mr Nilsson describes the work involved in recycling cardboard to turn it into new boxes.

“At Gekås in Ullared we recycle so much cardboard, that if we were to produce just one large box from the material, it would measure one km wide by three km long and four km high! It would be large enough to park 38,800 trucks in, each with a 25-m-long trailer. It’s not easy to picture, but this is what the 3000 ton of cardboard recycled at Gekås every year equate to.”  

We no longer wait to fix things until they are broken

Mr Nilsson: “I started my career on the workshop floor and have worked my way up. “I have worked at a foundry and even a nuclear plant and my technical know-how and interest prompted me to look at how we can use our machines for waste management. That is how I identified the shortcomings in our preventative maintenance work”.

Mr Nilsson started working at Gekås in 2008. At that time, servicing consisted of fixing things only when they were wrong rather than working proactively with preventative measures. Together with Orwak a regular maintenance plan was established to determine the service intervals for the machinery and it has ensured that there is no downtime as a result of faults with the machines.

“In the past, it was accepted that a machine could be out of order the entire morning. The machines were just run until they broke down. But this just was not sustainable – the number of cardboard boxes does not decrease just because a briquette press has stopped working. By taking measures to ensure that the machines are in optimal condition, we substantially increase our chances of the machines working as they should,” states Mr Nilsson.

Gekås uses a number of waste compaction units to handle cardboard and plastic. Balers compact plastic into bales and briquette presses turn boxes into briquettes.

 Greater and faster than the predecessor

Through Gekås’s collaboration with Orwak, Mr Nilsson has been actively involved in the continued development of compaction solutions. For instance, he discovered that an older type of briquette machine worked much faster than a new one:

“I raised the issue and after some measurements by Orwak’s staff, we found that my comparisons were correct. The hydraulics of the old machine were better suited to outdoor temperatures, making it faster. So my requirement was that the new machine should be as fast – and ideally faster – than the old one. “One outcome of this and of our collaboration is a new product, the BRICKMAN 2000, which Gekås now uses. It is faster and has greater capacity than its predecessor.”

 Space optimisation for transport

Gekås uses a large number of balers to compact plastic foil. It might seem natural to go for the biggest machine available considering the volume of waste, but Gekås has chosen a machine that can create bales in the exact sizes required. The ORWAK POWER 3420 makes bales that are 120 cm wide and 80 cm deep.

The advantage is that Euro pallets are 120 cm long. The bale can then be rolled out onto a pallet, making the height 80 cm. Three stacked bales equal a height of 240 cm. A standard Swedish truck is 260 cm tall and 250 cm wide inside. In this way Gekås can optimise space and place two 120-cm pallets side by side, each loaded with three stacked bales, thus minimising the amount of unused space. Back to Mr Nilsson:

“The smarter our approach to waste, the better the conditions are for us to profit from our waste management, or at least to break even. Corrugated cardboard and soft plastics are in demand in the recycling market, so our recycling of these materials provides us with a revenue stream.”

 A responsive partner

Having a supplier and partner as responsive as Orwak, and one which shares Nilsson’s technical know-how, makes it easier for both parties to use one another as a sounding board for new ideas. It creates a good foundation for an objective dialogue, from which new ways of thinking and working can emerge. Mr Nilsson explains:

“When you work with people who really listen to what you say, and who have good ideas themselves, you get a real sense of support and confidence that you will find the best possible solutions. A direct benefit of having implemented continuous maintenance for a while now is that many of the machines that were here when I started working at Gekås are still with us and still working today. I am both happy and proud of our co-operation with Orwak.