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As a nation we throw away 1.5m tonnes of glass every year, yet many glass manufacturers still cannot access all the recycled glass they could use, so he who controls cullet must be king, as Rodney Abbott discovers

Placed squarely at the heart of the problem is the effective use of cullet but its effective application in quantity is very much determined by the end product. Nevertheless, the EU Directive requires the UK to recycle 60% of all glass packaging by 2008.

“The colour and clarity of white flint is all important in our business,” says International Bottle Company (IBC) joint managing director. Mark Devonald Smith: “The only recycled glass that can be used for our bottles is the industry’s own waste and the maximum percentage of cullet that can be successfully included in a batch of glass is 15-18%. It has to be predominantly virgin material.”

The scale of the infrastructure development that is needed is considerable. The UK will need to double the number of glass banks from 50,000 to 100,000. Collections from pubs and clubs will have to increase fivefold to 60,000 licensed premises. At the same time the number of homes enjoying kerbside collection needs to increase from some 4m to 10m. Clearly the industry has a long way to go.

Andrew Hartley, British Glass director of strategy and communications, says: “With 2.3m tonnes of glass in the waste stream this means we have to recycle 1.4mt by 2008. Last year the UK recycled around 875 000t but it has taken over 25 years to reach this level.

“Clearly the UK has to move forward more rapidly. To reach the target we have to increase glass recycling by more than 120,000t each year for the next five years. The glass industry has the capacity to recycle more than a million tonnes of glass a year using current technology.”

Malcolm Vernon, director of logistics at Rockware Glass, believes that the means for meeting this challenge are all in place: “To process this material, we need the world’s most advanced recycling plants that automatically clean, sort and separate glass to the high standards required for use in our factories.

“Rockware is currently constructing a second 200,000t/yr plant at its Doncaster site which will clean cullet prior to use in its furnaces.” The multi-million pound plant, which will be operated by Rockware’s long term recycling partner Berryman Glass, will greatly increase the company’s usage of recycled material and also save energy.”

An ambitious programme has enabled Rockware to increase its recycling tonnages from 132,053 in 1999 to over 200,000 at the end of 2003. The target is to reach circa 400,000 by 2008, which will require more investment in plant and collection infrastructure.

United Glass (UG) collects and processes cullet through its wholly owned subsidiary, the British Glass Recycling Company (BGRC). “Local authorities are set one overall recycling target and are currently being encouraged to focus on biodegradable waste, while the packaging industry faces material specific targets,” says recycling development manager John Forsyth.

Geography is key to the master plan. Apparently, the major area for action is Scotland. BGRC estimates that of the 250,000t of glass in the Scottish waste stream, based on 2002/2003 figures, only 65,000-70,000t are recovered during the year. With such a strong glass industry in Scotland, there is a ready market for colour separated material.

“Following investment at the Alloa recycling plant, UG now has the capacity to process around 100,000t of glass/yr but last year was only able to obtain 55,000t for use at the plant,” says John Forsyth. “More glass is vital both to ensure UG and the Scottish authorities meet recycling targets and to ensure that the plant is running to capacity on cullet.”

The industry is actively supporting local authority collection efforts. PRN funds are made available to local authorities to co-fund the development of new or expanded collection schemes. Both BGRC and Berryman are committed to offering local authorities and collection contractors long-term contract guarantees which create stable market and prices for colour separated glass.

“We see the joint development of recycling initiatives as vital to drive volumes upwards and remain committed to working with all levels of UK government to achieve the new targets. It is clear also that that consolidation of the industry and the increasing pan-European nature of glass packaging will have environmental and commercial benefits for the company and its customers,” concludes Forsyth.