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Glass - 8 June 2013

At last some relief for the glass PRN: a reduction of 80,000 tonnes in obligated tonnage rides to the rescue. Just as well after the first quarter numbers. Complying this year seemed impossible, now it just seems almost impossible.

The new lower figure is the obligated tonnage figures calculated by compliance schemes on behalf of their members to see how many PRNs that they will need this year. It is based on a percentage of last year’s actual ‘consumption’ of glass packaging: the 2013 total is 80,000 tonnes less than in 2012.

Regardless of that, one thing is for sure and that is we are not recycling enough glass at the moment to comply with the current target, which means that - once again - the industry will need to dip into stockpiles to make up the difference. We are not so much living on credit as living off of savings, and, as with all savings, they will come to an end.

Last year I felt sure that, as long as the price was high enough, sufficient PRNs would be made available to the market in order for everyone to comply. This year I am not so sure. Re-melt is especially tricky because the stock piles are suitable only for aggregate, so there is no safety net. Last year, in the third quarter, industrial action in European ports made export impossible.

Fortunately the dispute was settled and this contributed to a massive fourth quarter, but the situation is still volatile and difficult to predict. All things considered, PRNs for both “re-melt” and “other” look under-priced and are unlikely to stay at this level for much longer. If we do manage to comply this year it will be because there was enough glass in the stockpiles to see us through two years of shortage - but in the end the UK needs to increase the amount of glass that it recovers, What can be done to achieve this? Are all LAs collecting glass kerb-side (commingled or not… who cares)? Can participation rates be increased? Is there any commercial glass still going uncollected? All three questions may need addressing but I fear the remaining glass in the waste stream will not be recovered easily or cheaply. It still has to be done if targets are to be met.

Talking about glass lately seems always to be dominated by the PRN and it’s easy to forget that glass is a commodity in its own right with its own separate problems. The sheer volume of poor quality MRF glass has presented the industry with some tough investment choices over the past few years, especially as it is easier to use it as an aggregate. However demand from re-melt is still strong and hopefully the differential PRN will favour this superior end use.

The End of Waste directive for glass is due in next week: the recognition of processed glass as a product rather than a waste is long overdue but in practical terms what difference will this make? It will change the point of issue for re-melt PRNs from the bottle manufacturer to the reprocessor and it may raise questions over permitting and planning as glass recyclers are now considered to be manufacturers rather than involved in waste treatment. Perhaps if processed recyclate was no longer a waste it could then be exported as a product, putting it outside waste export legislation. In this case, trans frontier shipment regulations could be tightened to prevent any unprocessed waste from being exported. If nothing else this would prevent some of the more ridiculous headlines seen in the industry’s favourite daily newspaper.

Tim Gent, director, Recresco

NEXT WEEK:

MRW is compiling a round-up of the reports from the latest convention of the Bureau of International Recycling, which was held in Shanghai, China last week. The reports cover ferrous, non-ferrous, paper, plastics and textiles. The full, unedited versions are also available at MRW.co.uk/BIR

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