ICI knowledge applied to circular economy

A former ICI scientist who has worked at the Wilton Centre for over four decades says that the same scientific knowledge once used to develop products in the 1970s is now being harnessed to recycle them.  

In 1977 Intertek employee John Dale was only 16 and one of 70,000 ICI employees across Teesside when he first entered the industry giant’s headquarters near Redcar just three years after it opened.

He started on the same day as his colleague Julian Barwick, who now also works for Wilton Centre occupier Intertek, with the men possessing an impressive 92 years of combined experience.

John, now 63, had a passion for chemistry from an early age but ultimately chose to pursue a career with ICI instead of going to university. “You were working with some of the best scientists in the world and were well looked after,” he said. “It was like being part of an extended family, offering security and a job for life.”

ICI provided employees with a bank, a heavily subsidised restaurant, a bar and a travel agent, with the company also supporting John to continue his education.

“Twenty years ago, it wouldn’t have even entered your mind to think there would be no ICI or British Steel on Teesside,” said John.

After the break-up of the company, John and Julian were among the many employees who decided to stay at the Wilton Centre, where the combination of their expertise, the facilities and its location has continued to attract new occupiers. A number of them are now focused on the development of new methods to break down and re-use ICI products as part of Teesside’s emerging circular economy.

“Mura Technology, for example, has been based here for more than five years and is about to open a world first plastic recycling plant,” said Claire Morton, Wilton Centre’s Leasing and Assistant Asset Manager. “Another more recent arrival, Stuff4Life, is winning awards for its technology which extracts the raw materials from discarded polyester workwear to make new protective clothing.”

John joined Intertek in 2007, working in the same offices and laboratories from his ICI days.

“The reason I get out of bed in the morning is because I still love the science”

Intertek is a FTSE-100 listed company which delivers Total Quality Assurance (TQA) solutions to every industry, across 100 countries worldwide, with – it says – services touching almost every aspect of life, from the ordinary to the incredible.

“One of the things we do is ensure new products are safe to go on sale,” said John. “The reason I get out of bed in the morning is because I still love the science and the value it brings to society.”

He added: “The whole economy of the world has changed since the days of ICI. It’s like sailing a yacht and suddenly there’s a sea change.”

“ICI was producing disposable materials like single use polythene bags; now Intertek is heavily focused on recycling. But the knowledge which allowed us to produce those materials in the first place is now being transferred into the circular economy, allowing us to reduce waste and increase lifecycles.”

Nonetheless, John says that the transition towards a more sustainable world must be undertaken with caution. “In the drive to ensure products are sustainable, we must also ensure that each product is safe and does not pose any unforeseen risks to consumer health. At Intertek, we are helping businesses across the globe to ensure the quality, safety and sustainability of their products.”

Intertek is one of more than 50 Wilton Centre occupiers: one of nine sites in the UK and Ireland owned by the Pioneer Group. Pioneer’s portfolio covers four million sq. ft and is valued at £1 billion.