2015 brought some much needed stability to the glass market. This was entirely due to the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) value remaining static for most of the year.
There seems to be no basis for the surprisingly robust PRN performance or any connection to the actual market. In reality, the glass PRN became virtually worthless as soon as the revised targets were announced, therefore the entire value is based on market perception rather than any mathematical formula or supply shortage.
The question is: can we rely on the market to continue to pay unnecessarily high prices for a PRN that will so easily outperform its target for the second year running? In the event that we cannot, then there will be an inevitable reduction in the price paid for glass.
On the bright side, glass did enjoy a free ride in 2015 and 2016 should also be quite stable, albeit at a much reduced value. There are no real surprises for the sector on the horizon, with the possible exception of aggregate as an end use.
The Environment Agency has never been truly happy with the concept of crushing up waste and calling it a product, especially if you then want to issue a PRN. We can only hope that any change in policy on this is enforced equally in all regions.
Staying with the PRN, it will be interesting to see when the differential system (remelt/other) will have an effect. At the moment, both are worth the same due to a puzzlingly low remelt target. This still looks like a good idea that has been badly executed. It seems logical to use the PRN revenue, however small, to encourage a more environmentally beneficial end use.
As it stands currently, the whole concept is a waste of time, but it does have huge potential to achieve what it was designed for as soon as the target is adjusted.
The TEEP regulations have had a similarly underwhelming impact on glass. It is another good concept, if you decide to commingle your recycling in order to save on collection cost, but you must then invest at the other end to clean it up.
Most reputable companies are achieving this on behalf of their local authority clients, but some are sending their glass directly to aggregate to save money on cleaning it up. This hardly seems fair on the majority of MRF operators that pay the price to ensure their glass goes into the same remelt end use as separate collections.
Some glass from commingled MRFs actually goes straight to landfill to ‘build roads’. Are we really still calling this recycling? Is this material really of comparable quality to source-separated material?
The European market should remain buoyant, more so if the euro ever recovers. However this market does occasionally bite due to market manipulation. If all the stockpiles in Europe were ever released, it could cause an oversupply, while cheap oil prices are increasingly making raw material a viable option.
If this were to happen, the UK would be hit hardest due to the lack of subsidies and the cost of shipping. We are never that far away from a possible gate fee for all glass, regardless of quality. But this would be a worst case scenario and very unlikely.
Guidelines for producing quality cullet, from British glass
Unacceptable contaminants: Any medical or chemical refuse, needles and syringes; bottles and jars containing any liquid or solid hazardous or toxic material; coal or coal dust.
Critical contaminants: Ceramics such as crockery or earthenware; Pyrex cookware; Visionware glass saucepans; inorganic materials such as bricks, concrete, gravel and stones; non-container glass such as flat glass, laboratory ware, light bulbs and tubes.
There are three main colours of glass: clear (also known as white or flint), green and brown (also known as amber). Collectors specify different degrees of colour separation in container glass. Some collectors can also take mixed glass as well as colour separated.
The technology needed to deal with separation is available, but further development in technology is required for processors to be able to clean and potentially sort MRF glass. It should be noted that this is not expected in the short term without legislative changes.
All non-magnetic metals but, in particular, aluminium and lead. Wire, strapping, wood, plastics and textiles are included.
Tim Gent is director of Recresco