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Hidden danger

At first glance, everything may have seemed rosy for the glass industry when its packaging recovery figures were announced last month. But a closer look reveals a much thornier picture.

Although the sector is well on its way to meeting its 49% recycling target for 2004, its targets over the next four years increase more steeply than any other material. Glass targets rise from 49% in 2004 to 71% in 2008, overtaking paper targets that merely go from 65% to 70% in that time.

This huge jump requires increases of more than 120,000 tonnes of glass recycling in each of the next four years, according to trade association British Glass. And the industry believes this is unlikely to happen.

Container manufacturer Rexam Glass has insisted a comprehensive review of glass recycling is desperately needed for the UK to stand any chance of hitting its 2008 target.

Government, local authorities, WRAP, compliance schemes and the glass industry must work together to create a stable economic environment for glass recycling, Rexam director Nigel Pritchard told MRW. There are numerous disconnects in the legislative framework for waste and recycling. These have been ignored for too long and their effects on the supply chain are now becoming apparent.


The problem stems from the in-built colour imbalance in the UK. Due to a taste for imported wine, which is traditionally bottled in green glass to keep out ultraviolet rays during long storage periods, about half of the glass collected for recycling in the UK is green. But two-thirds of the glass containers produced here are clear, leaving a surplus of green cullet.

So any increase in traditional glass recycling into new containers will have to involve clear glass. But mixed glass collections are growing so rapidly that unless there is massive and immediate investment in colour-separation technology, much of what clear cullet there is will be contaminated by green and amber.

Mixed collections have grown from less than 5% in 2001 to more than 30% now, says British Glass director of strategy and communications Andrew Hartley. If it keeps going like this, it could reach 70% by 2008.

But local authorities remain unconcerned by this they are driven by meeting their targets.

The upshot of this disconnect between weight-based council targets and material-specific industry laws is that up to a million tonnes of recycled green glass may have to find new homes in 2008.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has made the formulation of alternative markets a priority, and it claims to have proved the viability of recycled glass in brick-making, water filtration and sport surfaces. But many in the industry remain unconvinced.

Glass Recycling UK environment manager Ron England says: We remain concerned that these markets developed by WRAP are not economically viable.

We are not supplying any cullet to these markets. We agreed with WRAP to send a sizeable amount of material into water-filtration but that did not come to fruition because the buyers could not afford the glass.

Pritchard also has his doubts that alternative markets can fill the gap left by the colour imbalance. While WRAPs research has found many of these to be technically possible, they have not been commercially viable for glass reprocessors, he says.

Much of the blame for these alternative markets failing to work seems to lie with the packaging recovery note (PRN) system the UK uses to attempt to meet its packaging targets.

Pritchard explains: The rather short-term nature of PRN trading has resulted in large swings in their prices. This is not conducive to companies trying to produce business plans and get shareholders confidence.

WRAP remains unbowed, however. New markets are now completing their development stage and have the capacity to absorb many hundreds of thousands of tonnes, insists glass sector manager Andy Dawe.

But now the cynics believe they have found

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