With the right investment, materials recycling facility (MRF) glass delivers on quality and quantity, says Tim Gent, director of glass recycling company Recresco.
OPINION: The effects of climate change and the environmental impact of human activity is now well known and this increased awareness has caused us to consider our behaviour as consumers: waste less, reuse more and recycle.
We are all too aware that the items and products we use, the packaging they come in and the way in which we dispose of them directly affects the environment. When it comes to packaging, glass is the ultimate material; it is incredibly sustainable, being 100% recyclable, and capable of being re-melted endlessly without any loss of quality.
The UK boasts an impressive glass recycling rate at 68.8% and the glass industry is fully committed to pushing this further by increasing the target to 90% by 2030. Recycling is positive; it’s good for the environment and encourages sustainability, but as rates increase so too does demand for good quality cullet for the manufacture of new glass bottles, jars and fibre glass.
When glass is recycled into new glass products, it saves around 246 kg of carbon dioxide emissions for every tonne re-melted, while reducing energy consumption and the need for virgin raw materials. The glass industry agrees that driving glass into remelt is essential and this is a priority in the glass industry decarbonisation action plan.
For recycling purposes, hand separated collections provide reprocessors with clean material ideal for remelt into cullet with end use in the container industry and other high-end products. The average wine bottle in the UK contains on average 68% recycled material demonstrating how well the circular nature of glass works. However, it’s important to remember that ‘clean’ glass is not the only option available.
When it comes to the issue of quality, MRF glass is often disregarded by reprocessors for being unsuitable and too contaminated for remelt, but as new technology and sorting systems emerge, this no longer needs to be the case.
Glass from comingled collections is mixed with a variety of other materials, compacted, crushed, broken and delivered to the MRF. The process causes heavy contamination, with paper, cardboard, metal, heat resistant glass, plastics, toys, ceramics, porcelain just some of the items regularly identified.
At the MRF everything that drops through the trommel (typically 40-50ml mesh) is considered ‘glass’ although it is often difficult for the naked eye to see any glass in the material at all. Historically this glass would have been rejected by reprocessors, ultimately leading it to landfill or aggregate, but today not only is it possible to use this material for remelt, it is possible to reprocess it to a standard comparable to that expected from clean, separated collections.
Sorting and cleaning
Innovative sorting and cleaning technology makes what was once an impossible task, possible. Ground breaking machinery can produce the same yield from comingled collections as separated, making the 90% recycling target easily achievable.
The ability to reprocess MRF glass to this standard is beneficial for both the industry and the environment. It drives more glass into remelt over aggregate, resulting in less waste, fewer carbon emissions and reduced energy consumption. It also solves any issues of material availability for the industry.
The glass industry agrees that re-melt must be prioritised and welcomed the increase in re-melt over aggregate targets for 2021-22 to 72%. By investing in the technology and systems that make it possible for MRF glass to be included in the remelt market, the industry can easily meet and even exceed this target. The evolution of sorting technology makes it possible for glass recycling to enjoy both quality and quantity of material while meeting increased targets and exacting industry standards.
Only by considering co-mingled material and investing in the technology to reprocess it effectively in a closed loop system can glass be considered truly circular.