Trade Resources Industry Views Packaging News Organised a Conference in Conjunction with British Glass

Packaging News Organised a Conference in Conjunction with British Glass

On 12 November, Packaging News organised a conference in conjunction with British Glass, bringing together members of the UK glass industry to discuss ways of improving recycling in Britain.

The central London conference included talks from influential members of the UK glass industry; from brand owners and glass manufacturers to local authority waste and recycling managers and commercial waste management companies.

A series of interactive workshops also led to the definition of five main areas that require focus and work in order to increase recycling levels: quality, collection methods, technology, Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) and exports.


In order to meet the proposed 90% target for all packaging waste material in the EU to be recycled by 2030, the UK would need to recycle around 2,160,000 tonnes of glass packaging. However, there are currently unrecorded losses that suggest a higher volume of glass is being collected than the country realises.

Therefore, in order to reach the target, more than 90% of packaging waste will need to be collected, which raised the question: is this target even feasible?

Group discussion highlighted that in order to increase the amount of glass being recycled in the UK, the industry must first address the issue of quality. Once this is achieved, most agreed that quantity would then follow.

“The problems with quality is that it causes problems with the collection. Less glass gets through the recycler to the glass manufacturer and we can’t push the content up,” said Ian Ferguson, environment manager for Co-Operative Food.


John Woodruff, head of waste services for the London borough of Bromley, discussed the same issue. Cullet contaminated by heat-resistant glass, ceramic content, insoluble pieces and fine glass is rejected as aggregate. He said: “At the moment we’re not using as much of the glass as we could – probably too much of it is going to aggregate, rather than re-melt or recycling.

“We need to look at every element of the process, right from when councils collect it, to reduce the level of contamination when residents are putting things in the bin. The easiest, simple way to affect the quality of the glass is to collect it separately.”

Antoinette Divine, global packaging manager, sustainability and innovation at SABMiller, agreed that bottle banks should be reinstated, but the point was raised that it would be difficult to encourage people to visit bottle banks when they are used to disposing of their waste using containers at home.

Although an estimated 85% of UK kerbside collections now include glass, quality levels have not increased. There is currently no set best practice for comingled collection, therefore some Local Authorities permit materials, such as paper and glass, to be mixed together when ideally they should be kept apart.

“What we need is a complete consistency in the types of materials collected,” said Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC who runs waste and recycling services for Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council.

Woodruff explained that regulating comingled collection would require new, redesigned equipment, from waste sorting machines to new containers and specialised collection vehicles that can store several kinds of materials separately.


A solution to the bottle bank versus comingle collection debate could be found in technology. Trevor Roberts, sector manager for metal and glass for CTUK, supported comingled collection: “We need to introduce measures of policing quality and making sure that if we take in substandard material, it is processed in a way to get its maximum value”.

With the introduction of Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), machines can not only separate glass from other materials, but also sort it by colour and wash and dry the glass. With Local Authorities being encouraged to adopt a comingled approach, the machines are an integral part of allowing this new system to run effectively.

Because it is a niche market, few of these machines are made and their price is therefore high. With government funding being cut, the group suggested money for new waste disposal and sorting equipment could come from PRN subsidising export and import costs, but this might not be enough. Therefore an argument would have to be put forward to the government for investment.


PRNs were the subject of great debate throughout the conference, with the key question being: where does all the money go? It was agreed that there needs to be transparency along the supply chain. Although it is packaging that is being recycled, PRNs aren’t funding the cost.

While UK PRN prices for glass are fairly static, the conference found that in general the PRN system fluctuates too much. Mike Gabriel, purchasing manager for northern Europe for Knauf Insulation said: “[The PRN scheme] has also created an unpredictability to help companies like us procure glass and partner with people in the processing industry.” A fixed PRN could therefore improve confidence in the market as it could give some certainty to predicting costs.


Michael Day, managing director of Glass Recycling UK, said: “A lot of material is being exported, obviously that injures on the capacity of our plants,” referring to the UK processors’ inability to compete financially. As a result, the country is importing materials, which Divine saw as a positive because companies are bringing in glass that could hopefully be a benefit to the UK glass industry.

Either way, the conference agreed that it needs to be advantageous to keep glass in the UK. Andrew Bird said: “You have to make it more attractive. It’s got to be cost-driven, effectively. We’re in the business now that everything is financially driven.”

The proposed EU packaging waste recycling targets aim to create a more circular economy. Faicre O’Donnell, marketing manager at Insert Glass, explained the key to achieving this and meeting the tough proposed target is to look at the way in which we treat the waste material.

He said: “We have to think of recycled material as a resource. We have to be trying to use it more. If we collect it in a proper manner, we can use it much more efficiently through the whole system.”

The conference concluded with the agreement that collaboration is key to improving the quality and quantity, of glass recycling in the UK packaging sector.

Rebecca Cocking, head of container affairs at British Glass and leader of the conference, said: “I don’t believe we can make any change in isolation. We’ve been doing it individually and we’ve done a good job – this is about doing something collectively.”

Henry Majed, business development director at 2 Degrees, concurred adding: “It’s not enough for any one individual or company on their own to do this, they need to get the support and learn from those who are at the very top of the scale.”

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Glass Industry Examines Recycling in The UK