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Feature: Heart of glass

Forget the adage about people in glass houses: while the UK glass reprocessing industry agonises over how best to tackle this country’s glut of green glass, one company has the technology to take waste glass of any grade or colour and transform it into a valuable commodity.

A finalist in the Best Innovation in Market Development category of the National Recycling Awards 2005, Ambiente Housing Systems is gearing up to take 200,000 tonnes of waste glass each year to manu-facture a modular housing system, replacing the trad-itional methods that require the use of wood, steel and concrete.

“This system has been in the research and development process for the past nine years in the Caribbean and is just coming into commercial production in March/April of this year,” says business development director Richard Irving. “We are manufacturing modular houses that are made from silica and resin. The silica comes from glass, and it is pure serendipity that we can take any grade of glass for this process.”

The system the company uses is designed to produce durable, affordable houses that are low maintenance.

Having collected the glass, whether it is ornate, automotive or plate, Ambiente will be using a technology that has been patented in 64 regions around the world. The glass is reduced to a flour and heated up into a dough, then has a foaming agent added and air blown through it to produce a cenosphere (empty sphere).

“Glass is six times the tensile strength of steel but it is inherently brittle,” says Irving. “If you entrap glass in resin, you retain its structural integrity but remove its fragility.What you are left with is a product that is immensely strong with excellent insulation properties. The beauty of composites is that they mimic traditional materials but outperform them.”

The house itself consists of a system of panels for the walls and roof, which are structurally reinforced with a network of cables that are anchored to a concrete slab foundation.

According to Irving, the company is in the process of making collection arrangements with local authorities and breweries for their waste glass and is also talking to a major supermarket chain. Although the supermarket is keen for Ambiente to take its glass, Irving says that it first has to overcome the problem of food residues.

With a recycling and manufacturing plant in Knows-ley, which Irving says will be ready to start production in March/April, the company’s plans are highly ambitious.

“We have a progressive expansion schedule,” he continues. “We are looking to produce 168 homes a week by the end of 2007. We would need around 100,000 tonnes of glass a year but are looking to collect 200,000 tonnes as we have other uses for the cenosphere. We believe this will make us the largest recycler of waste glass in the UK by the end of 2007.”

The collection of glass would be carried out by a rail network which, says Irving, “is such an obvious solution that I can’t believe that no one’s thought of it before”.

The company has an exemption from the Waste Management Regulations 1994 so is able to store glass, and is an accredited reprocessor and an accredited trader in packaging recovery note glass recycling credits.

However, it is not just the product&rsqu

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