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Kerbside recycling collections over the last decade have significantly increased the amount of glass cullet in the marketplace, and while colour-sorted glass is historically taken from bottle banks, little glass tonnage is collected this way nowadays.
Mixed glass is usually collected from households either separately from other recyclable materials or in commingled recycling containers, leaving very little colour-sorted material in the UK market.
Still, UK glass manufacturers prize clear glass most highly because, while most glass made in the UK is clear, by far the largest proportion of the glass waste stream is green. For this reason green is prized the least. Completely mixed glass cannot be used in the container re-melt industry, where colour purity is vital, and must instead go to alternative uses such as aggregates.
However, the quality of mixed glass varies. Some believe that including glass in commingled collections makes it harder to separate from other materials at MRFs, meaning for some that MRF glass is not of such a high quality compared to separated mixed glass – although some companies believe technology exists which can produce high quality glass from commingled MRF material.
A number of UK glass recycling companies have invested in new glass sorting technology in recent years, which has enabled them to sort and separate quality mixed glass to a high standard, making colour-contamination less of a problem.
According to a Waste & Resources Action Programme market situation report published in October 2008, there was 1.5 million tonnes of glass collected for recycling in the 12 months to June 2008.
Despite increasing competition from alternative glass markets such as aggregates, energy costs and limits on carbon emissions are leading container manufacturers to do everything in their power to use more recycled cullet.
But although many glassmakers would argue container manufacture is the best use of cullet, as glass can be re-melted countless times, alternative uses such as grit blasting, use in road surfaces and water filtration will become increasingly important in ensuring end-markets. In 2008, about 550,000 tonnes of recycled glass went into alternative markets.
In March 2014, Defra lowered the UK’s glass packaging recycling target to 75% of the total glass packaging placed on the market in 2014 (the target was previously 81%) with the aim of tackling volatile PRN prices. This target will increase to 76% in 2015 and 77% from 2016 onwards. There are also incremental changes in the split between aggregate and remelt use, which is 35% and 65% respectively in 2014.
The target was changed to better reflect the amount of glass on the market, after a glass industry report had found that the figure had previously been overestimated by around 350,000 tonnes.
The report stated that the amount of glass on the market is around 2.4 million tonnes – significantly lower than the circa 2.75 million tonnes previously estimated and on which the 2013 government glass recycling targets were based.
The export market for recycled glass is important for the UK and the multinational nature of some of the major glass companies means that a large amount of glass is exported to mainland Europe.
And, unlike in the UK, companies abroad in wine-producing countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal are happier to take more mixed glass to process green container glass. These countries are the main recipients of exported UK glass, which is then used to create wine bottles.
Companies such as beverage giant Coca-Cola have also made moves to improve their environmental credentials, through measures such as reducing the weight of its glass bottles – a process known as ‘lightweighting’.
Prices shown are in £ per tonne.
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