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The future is bright for glass recycling in the Republic

Little more than a year ago the future of glass recycling in Ireland looked grim. The closure of the Irish Glass recycling plant in Ringsend the only glass recycling plant in the country was a real blow, casting doubt over the economic viability of glass recycling. Cost-effective markets had to be found to prevent the loss of this environmental asset.

However, the agreement between Rehab Recycling and Quinn Glass, which guaranteed the recycling of virtually all consumer glass deposits collected in the Republic until 2006, turned this situation around. The partnership has proved to be a success, enabling local authorities to plan ahead confidently in relation to the continued expansion of the glass bring bank network.

Rehab and Quinn had already developed a relationship prior to the closure of Irish Glass. For Rehab there was a potential problem with green glass, which Irish Glass was unable to accept and so they looked to Quinn which was dealing with it in the north. But when Irish Glass closed, the small problem of green glass suddenly escalated into a much bigger problem and a solution had to be found.

Quinn was expanding and guaranteed that it could take all of Rehabs coloured glass. So, with input from the government and financial support from Repak, the RehabQuinn partnership was formed and with a contract due to run until 2006 they have not looked back since.

Rehab Recycling began in 1984 with an initial base of just 10 sites, says Bob Rowat, general manager of Rehab. Up until 1998 we had two glass processing sites in Dublin and Cork that had a capability of five tonnes per hour but it was a loose quality. It was clear to us that the plants did not have the capability to work to the standard needed.

In February 1999, Rehab opened a new processing facility in Ballymount, which they say was the first of its kind in Ireland, representing a significant investment in the countrys effort to increase glass recycling. At Ballymount, Rehab is producing between 50,00060,000 tonnes a year and, according to Rowat, Rehab has grown 20% year on year.

The challenges we face certainly centre around quality, he continues. We need to produce the quantity needed to the right standard. With colour contamination you used to be allowed 20% but now it is 10%. We are dependent on the public and there have been huge improvements in recent years and the sorting is much better.

Public participation is key as Ireland still faces the serious problem of illegal dumping. Landfill costs are significantly more than in the UK and council charges for waste are high, retaining the incentive to dump illegally. However, the government is aggressively pursuing its environment policy and Rowat believes that the message is getting across. I think that participation is highest among the older generation, he says, but the key thing is to get them young and there is a lot of education going on and we regularly have tours around the plant.

Making a profit from glass recycling is not an easy task, however, and Rowat explains that money is needed from three sources: the fees charged to the local authorities for collection, which is cheaper than landfill; the Repak subsidy; and the revenue from the glass being sold.

Rehab is looking into different uses for the glass but the quandary is that the more sophisticated the process gets, the more waste is created. However, this waste can be used for road construction or drainage material.

Rowat believes that the future of glass recycling is bright with Rehab looking into a new and bigger plant. I dont see any slow down, he says. Charges are increasing and there are more bottle banks than ever. Hopefully our future will still be with Quinn they are hugely successful and we have an excellent working relationship. u

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