Tim Gent, director of glass reprocessing company Recresco, says the recent spike in the price of glass remelt PRNs is because of a rise in annual glass recycling obligations.
Glass remelt PRNs have sold for as much as £200 a tonne in recent weeks.
The glass recycling obligation is based on the amount of packaging placed on the UK market in the previous calendar year.
Mr Gent attributes this year’s increased obligation to the amount of glass people used at home during the lockdown in 2020.
He said: “The reason that it’s as high as it is because during lockdown the amount of glass that was used in the UK last year was absolutely huge.
“As a direct result of that, the obligation has risen this year, because it’s based on last year’s numbers.”
He added: “It wasn’t until the obligation numbers started to come out that it became obvious that it was going to be a bit of a struggle to reach the target, even with 82,000 tonnes of carry-in on remelt. It was still going to be a challenge even with that.”
Alongside increased tonnages, the overall target for glass packaging waste recycling rose from 80% in 2020 to 81% in 2021.
While the 1% increase in the overall target is only small, the proportion which must be remelt rose by 5% from 67% in 2020 to 72% in 2021.
Glass PRNs can be purchased either as remelt or as ‘other’, which covers glass that goes towards aggregate. Remelt is seen as the more circular solution but requires more expensive processing, hence the split.
It was known that this was going to be a difficult target to reach
Packaging data published in October for the third quarter of 2021 showed that glass remelt was the only material which appeared to be falling behind target, with around 72% of the estimated obligation covered by material accepted (see letsrecycle.com story).
Mr Gent said the industry did not react fast enough once the obligation was known. “It was known, then, that this was going to be a difficult target to reach.
“But the remelt PRN was still hanging around £15, £18 pounds a tonne and stayed there for quite a while and increased very, very slowly.
“Really, it should have increased more rapidly. Then it wouldn’t have been at £200 now.”
He added: “You can’t have cheap PRNs on a really difficult year and still not expect it to spike in November or December, which is what’s happening.”
However, Mr Gent remains optimistic that the UK will meet glass recycling targets for 2021.
“I think we will [meet the targets] unless we have some pretty devastating weather, but it’ll be very close,” he said. “And I have to say, I think a week of bad weather would stop us. So that’s how close it is, and it shouldn’t be that close, really.”
Mr Gent suggested there could even be some carry-over into 2022. “If everything goes really well, I guess we could have 10,000, 15,000 even 20,000 tons of carry-over on remelt.
“But equally, the information I have says we could be 5,000, 6,000 tonnes short. That’s on current performance. If we do have a weather event in that period, then we don’t comply.”
Having been set up by Tim’s father, Alan, in Norfolk in 1973, Recresco is now one of the glass recycling sector’s biggest names.
The company claims to have been the first to sort glass by colour and the first to take glass sourced from materials recycling facilities (MRFs).
The company has headquarters in Nottingham and operates sites in Cwmbran, South Wales, and Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
The Cwmbran site processes source-separated glass from councils, along with local waste businesses.
The plant has a supply contract with Knauf Insulation, a company which manufactures glass mineral wool from the recovered material and operates just down the road in Cwmbran.
This year, Recresco began a wide-ranging £1.2 million upgrade programme at its Cwmbran depot, funded partially through a Welsh Economic Futures grant awarded to the company last year (see letsrecycle.com story).
The upgrade includes new sorting equipment from Impact Air Systems, Goudsmit and others, plus bespoke material handling equipment designed specifically for glass products.