BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 3 2001-10-04 Ron England (Glass Recycling UK, Barnsley)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Evidence from Ron England (previously circulated and copy in official minute book).

The Chair welcomed Mr England to the meeting.

Mr England elaborated upon his evidence, giving personal examples. The UK glass industry produced 1.8million tonnes of glass containers each year, which equalled 6,000,000,000 bottles and jars each year. The waste stream was increased by 400.000 tonnes due to an imbalance between Exports and Imports. Therefore, there was 2.2 million of glass packaging in the waste stream. Of this figure, the Glass Industry recovered 550,000 tonnes, equalling 25%. The EEC Directive on Packaging stated that 56% of all packaging had to be recovered. (Mr England believed that Mr Meacher would increase this to 60%) For glass, this meant 1,232,000 tonnes to be recovered. Therefore there was a shortfall of 682,000 tonnes.

During his presentation, Mr England made reference to his involvement in instigating the first schemes, dustbin analysis in Barnsley etc.

Glass was perceived in two main waste streams - domestic and commercial. On average, households used 1kg of glass per week. Bottle banks had been designed to get round the problem of costs of collection (where cost outstripped value, but local authorities very rarely weighed their rubbish. Up until 1983, pubs and clubs were considered as `domestic'; however, this had now been changed and was a local authority charge. It was estimated that there was 600/800, 000 tonnes of waste glass in the commercial waste stream. Like every material, once supply and demand was out of balance, market value dropped. This made expansion of recycling difficult. There were two markets: primary and secondary. The primary market was where glass went back into the system and could be recycled. The secondary market was more difficult (e.g. toothpaste, reflective road signs, tarmac).

At this stage, Mr England answered questions from the Select Committee as follows:-

(1) Why is glass not re-used, as it is in other countries e.g. drinks bottles in USA, Canada, Denmark? (Bill Colwell)

Mr England referred to the wine industry situation in France, pointing out that that in the UK 40 `glass containers' were used per person each year - in France this was 169 `glass containers'. The French had tried using reverse vending machines, but supermarkets had established that this would use 50% floor space. The Chair made reference to marketing attitudes, tradition and public expectation in the wine industry - particularly insofar as the use of coloured glass was concerned, Bill Colwell queried if green glass was inferior in value. Mr England explained the production processes involved, pointing out that it was the cheapest to produce. Clear glass was more expensive. (This related to the quality of sand etc)

(2) Is it really cheaper to recycle from broken glass than to re-use returned (`deposit') bottles? If so, how are other countries such as Denmark also able to maintain so much higher a level of deposit /reuse schemes for glass bottles? (Bill Hopwood)

Mr England stated that this was simply because someone had decided that this was the right thing to do. The UK milk bottle was regarded as the best returnable container anywhere. In considering the `cradle to grave' approach, for every gallon of milk that was bottled in a dairy, a gallon of water went down the drain (including 2% caustic soda) for cleaning purposes. In terms of contamination etc, the risk assessment was so great that reuse of the material became the issue.

(3) What high value products can be made from recycled glass? Is there much research and government encouragement of such business opportunities? (Bob Stewart)

Mr England stated that research had been ongoing for some considerable time. In 1992, when he was Chair of the Environmental Committee of the Glass Industry, alternatives had been investigated. One problem identified at the time was a perception that glass could be put into concrete, something with which he disagreed. The Norwegians had built the Olympic flame construction from concrete and crushed glass, but this had collapsed after two years. However, Mr England confirmed that glass did go into tarmac as a `filler'. A project was currently underway at Sheffield University. The use of glass in kerb edges (i.e. anything non-load bearing) was feasible.

The Chair suggested that it could be said that recycling glass was not appropriate and that there should be moves to plastic or even aluminium containers which could be recycled easily, but that the glass industry became keen on glass recycling to try and keep its market share of product. Mr England appreciated the question, but the worse material for recycling was plastic. Glass retained its strength by comparison. The Chair suggested that there was a lot of energy expounded on say, a lorry-load of glass containers compared to a lorry-load of plastic containers. Mr England suggested that this was a fallacy. Fuel was 25% of the lorry load - and the differences of haulage between both did not make much difference on a 200-mile journey.

Bob Stewart queried if Mr England perceived that there was a ready market for recycled glass. Mr England reported that the 550,000 tonnes collected was going back into the glass industry as primary material. Difficulties could be envisaged when more material was being collected to get the waste stream down, resulting in a saturation effect.

(4) Would it make sense to have more glass recycling facilities, so reducing transport costs? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr England suggested that many people had tried to work this out. David Durant, working for Enviros, had considered `close proximity' as a deciding factor - but Mr England suggested that close proximity in the USA was a different meaning as applied to the UK. The issue was one of economies of scale. Did you need one big plant and bring material to it? Or have various units in different places? This was difficult to assess, but in Mr England's view, moving from `A to B' in one move was more energy efficient. In response to queries, Mr England confirmed that whereas his operation was based in Barnsley, their vehicle was in this area every day collecting approximately 7 tonnes of glass. He confirmed, however, that if drivers' hours were cut, this would require a drastic `rethink' of the operation.

(5) There have been many stories of bottles being put back into bottle banks by concerned members of the public, and then dumped rather than recycled because of a lack of a local glass recycling market.. How common do you think this is, and what should local councils be doing to ensure that the public do not lose confidence in the use of such facilities? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr England stated that if this was actually happening, he was unaware of it in his experience. The Chair queried whether, that if all councils were maximising the collection of all glass that came in, would Glass Recycling UK be able to deal with it? Mr England explained that they could cope with all of the glass, but it was the potential additional requirements that would cause problems. The Chair queried whether the basic problem was one of extra glass coming in from abroad. Mr England concurred. Val Barton wondered about the situation of leadership from Government. Mr England stated that he had met with 12 Secretaries of State, but suggested that the nature of the job meant that they moved on to other positions making consistency a problem.

Caroline Spencer queried what use recycled glass was put to when returned as a primary source. Mr England confirmed that it was melted back down into glass. He also confirmed that fibreglass was also made from reused glass. During discussion of manufacturing processes, Mr England stated that there were technical problems here since contamination by any other colours reduces the amount that could be put back into the furnace. He had been working on an effective separation scheme for over 10 years. Of 1.8million tonnes, 1.2 million tonnes was clear glass. The remaining 600,000 tonnes was 50% brown, 50% green. Given the problems of European glass, the Chair queried what the consumer should do. Should people be encouraged to purchase green or white glass? Mr England believed that materials should be packaged in the country of consumption, rather than the country of origin.

In terms of the economics of his operation, Mr England reported that the company covered 25% of the population. Economics were the driving force, but he regarded himself as a realistic environmentalist.

At this stage, the Chair thanked Mr England for his attendance.