Biffa invests £3.1m in MRF glass cleaning

Biffa has invested £3.1 million into glass cleaning technology at its two ‘super’ MRFs at Aldridge in the West Midlands and Edmonton in North London, aiming to boost material quality and “reduce the risk presented by the volatile onward glass market”.

Councils expect MRF gate fees to rise as material value declines and quality improves

Biffa's Aldridge MRF has had glass cleaning and fibre optic sorting technology installed
Biffa’s Aldridge MRF has had glass cleaning and fibre optic sorting technology installed to boost the quality of its glass output

The multi-million pound investment has seen upgrades made to the two materials recycling facilities, enabling the output of glass from commingled material to be cleaned to produce “a better grade of glass” while ensuring “increased and sustainable profitability and growth for the business”.

According to Biffa, the new cutting-edge equipment has been up and running at both MRFs for the past month and will help the company to “create demand in and target new markets, as well as open up new sales channels for the business”.

Describing the complex process of glass recycling as “one of the most problematic areas of waste management faced by the sector”, the firm said that the upgraded technology would enable the firm to reduce levels of contamination often found in the material.

With mixed MRF glass commonly commanding gate fees as high as £30 at present, Biffa hope that better cleaning of its own MRF glass will “significantly” boost the quality of its output to reprocessors, thereby boosting revenues by lowering or even removing its gate fee for the material.

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The Edmonton MRF is licensed to process up to 350,000 tonnes of mixed recyclables annually, a maximum of around 95,000 tonnes of which is glass. It also handles a further 150,000 tonnes a year of mixed recyclables through its waste transfer station.

Aldridge MRF

The Aldridge MRF, meanwhile, has the capacity to process up to 300,000 tonnes of mixed recyclables each year. Of this material, the MRF is able to process up to around 65,000 tonnes of glass each year.

In addition, the upgrade at the Aldridge MRF has also seen the installation of NRT fibre optical sorting technology designed by Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), which according to Biffa is ‘first design of its kind in Europe’.

The optical sorting technology removes paper fibres from the glass, which has enabled Biffa to increase its fibre recovery by 7% at the facility.

Ian Wakelin, chief executive at Biffa, comments: “In order to meet the needs of today’s contaminated glass, while securing a profitable future for this area of the business, investment was a prerequisite.

“The new technology afforded by this major investment will enable our glass recycling plants to operate more efficiently and effectively, while ensuring we can create a sustainable pathway for business development.”

Biffa has recently returned to growth and claims to have significantly written down its debt. It is now seeking more acquisitions and possible expansion into North America (see story).

Glass market

Biffa’s investment comes despite the glass recycling market experiencing a fall in material prices, along with remelt and aggregate PRN prices, over the last year. Prices for clear glass reached as high as £40 per tonne in January 2014, but now rarely fetch more than £25.

And, while PRNs were hovering around the £50-70 (remelt) and £35-60 (aggregate) mark in January 2014, both are now sat at around £12-15.

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