Visiting AO’s recycling plant

Paul Oakley, Supplier Manager

Paul Oakley, Supplier Relationship Manager

The team visited our white goods supplier AO’s recycling plant to learn more about the steps they take to reduce their impact on the environment.

Face to face again

Since March 2020, I have had even more conversations than usual with our suppliers. Building and maintaining close relationships with suppliers is one of the main focuses of my role and this became more important during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The team and I have been impatient to get out and about again to meet our key contacts in person after countless video calls and emails, so we were pleased to finally visit our white goods supplier AO’s Recycling Centre, a state-of-the-art facility in Telford.

Accompanied by our MD Jill Wheeler and Head of Business Development Helen Bradley, our tour was reminiscent of a school trip. We were really excited because we were about to find out how AO reduce waste and reuse as many appliances as possible; great for the environment and great for those unable to afford brand new appliances. Here at FFBS we pride ourselves on working with the best suppliers to deliver a carefully selected range of products for our customers, and that includes understanding their environmental commitments.

Sara Langton, David Hepburn, and Peter Redgate from AO met us onsite, and we donned our PPE ready to safely learn more about the process of recycling white goods.

Paul Oakley at the AO recycling plant
Paul at the AO recycling plant. Masks were put back on after the photo was taken.

Preparing items for re-use

Our first stop was the part of the site dedicated to appliances that are set to be reused. The best way to recycle we are told is to reuse, and that means spotting any good-quality appliances that can be refurbished to as new condition, thoroughly tested, then resold at outlet stores with a full 1 year warranty (think dent-free washing machines whose drums still spin). The process the team refer to this as is known as ‘magpie-ing’; much like the magpie will spot something shiny, the team onsite are well trained to spot an appliance that can be reused. In fact, their aim is for only a couple of percent of appliances being returned after being ‘magpied’. We saw an American style fridge freezer being ‘magpied’ in front of our eyes – hopefully it will make it through and find a new home.

We were then taken to the unloading bays, and watched as numerous appliances (that had been uplifted from the houses that AO delivered new items to) were offloaded from AO lorries and removed just as quickly as they had arrived. The team aim to offload a lorry in 1 hour 30 minutes, and at the pace everyone was moving we could easily believe it. If any appliances haven’t been ‘magpied’ they get broken down into their component parts by the hardworking staff. The entire floor was buzzing with activity, and we were taken aback by the volume of appliances processed. We were told that yesterday they offloaded 2,986 items in 24 hours – with an average appliance weight of 150kg, that’s almost the same weight as 90 adult elephants!

What struck us was just how much gets recycled at the site; everything from the scrap metal, glass, plugs and plastic. Almost nothing makes it through without being converted into something that can be reused or sold, drastically reducing the amount that ends up in landfill. One area we particularly enjoyed seeing was the section called ‘knock off’; safe to say that if you are having a bad day this is the place you want to be! ‘Knock off’ is an area dedicated to breaking up washing machines manually with a large axe to access and remove the valuable motors. I was surprised to learn this manual process is much faster than using power tools, and with the pace the team were working at every second counts.


Our next stop was to the conveyor belt for fridges, which all need to be de-gassed before they can be compressed by the legendary Bertha. All of the toxic gasses are removed and made safe before they can make their way along the conveyor belt. This is where we met Nigel, who ensured any fridges stuck on the conveyor belt were promptly released, earning the role name ‘Fridge Pusher’; with 97 fridges an hour to get through there is no time for stuck appliances!

Bertha the AO recycling machine

We then watched Nicoletta do the final stage checks before the fridges go through and are loaded into Bertha herself. Bertha is an 80-tonne machine that breaks fridges into tiny piece using a vortex created by two huge spinning chains. All of the pieces then come out of the other end to be sorted and recycled.

Bertha the AO recycling machine

It was a brilliant day and a great learning experience for us all. FFBS always ensure we are acting in our customers’ best interests when we choose which products to supply, and as environmental concerns continue to remain at the forefront of our and our partners’ minds, it’s great to be working with a supplier that is taking action against waste.

AO are part of our supplier network that help us offer a range of thousands of products and services to our cusomers, selected by us for their suitability, quality and value for money. Get in touch at to find out more.  

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