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HVDM writes for Glass International

06th May 2015


In the latest edition of Europe’s largest glass magazine, Glass International, Director of Viridor Resource Management Herman Van Der Meij looks at our £25m investment in the UK’s most advanced glass recycling facility at Newhouse, Scotland.

“You can tell there’s an election fast approaching” I was told at a conference last week. “When the politicians point to you as an example of good practice.” Well, maybe. But the recognition is long overdue.

DEFRA’s recent report ‘Resource Management : A catalyst for growth and productivity’ pointed to the UK resource sector as a beacon of success, contributing ?6.8bn of gross value added (GVA) to the British economy annually, supporting 103,000 jobs. Resources Minister, Dan Rogerson, acknowledged that “using our rescources more carefully is not only good for the environment, it’s also vital to build a stronger economy.”

Of course, giving resources new life is nothing new to the European glass sector.

The last decade has witnessed a paradigm shift from ‘waste’ to resource, with glass as an early recycling pioneer. Indeed, many of the first commercial recycling collections in Britain were for container glass. But whilst glass has remained a steadfast contributor to Britain’s recycling performance, what has changed, quite fundamentally, is the front and back end applications and requirements of an ever evolving sector.

As far back as the 1800s consumers were faithfully returning container glass bottles to manufacturers ready for re-use. More recently, in addition to deposit-return, consumers were faithfully recycling in colour separated bottle banks in supermarket car parks from Cardiff to Carlisle. The triple-whammy however of austerity, reduced streetscape and the requirement to roll-out glass recycling to household front doors led, inevitably, to a focus on volume, not value.

The shift to commingling of glass, either in terms of mixed colours or mixed recycling, has presented fresh challenges for recyclers focused on meeting the increasingly stringent quality specifications of manufacturers such as the Scotch whisky sector.

That cultural shift in collections has necessitated new investment in cutting-edge technology to combat contamination. More than that however, innovation has allowed glass to shine as a clear example of circularity, with Scotch whisky being a great example.

Whilst continuing its contribution supporting government warm homes objectives through a partnership with insulation provider, Superglass, this spring will see the environmental credentials of Scotland’s largest export take a significant step forward. Viridor’s latest glass hub – a ?25m investment in the UK’s most advanced glass recycling centre at Newhouse, Lanarkshire, will open its doors, team-tagging with sister-plant capabilities in Sheffield.

The ‘next generation’ facility, strategically adjacent to the M8 motorway, will be one of the most advanced glass recycling plants in Europe, capable of recycling 200,000 tonnes of glass per year – 150% of all glass packaging currently collected in Scotland.

The Newhouse recycling centre will help drive Scotland’s circular economy, reduce reliance on imported materials for whisky and beverage bottles, and ensure 100% of Scottish packaging glass is fit for use by the burgeoning Scotch whisky and drinks sectors.

Recycling glass from 17 Scottish local authorities, the facility will recover up to 97% of input materials, importantly achieving up to 99% product purity, exceeding the quality requirements for a Scotch sector focused on high-end product packaging.

Featuring advanced recycling technology from across the globe, the centre will encompass some 15 ‘scientific eye’ optical sorters, x-ray sorters, over 1Ž2 km of conveyer belts and 2.5km of electrical cabling across 3 floors of processing towers.

The latest investment, an example of investment being undertaken across Europe, fundamentally shifts the nature of glass recycling, offering the ability to colour sort mixed glass back to original streams for a high quality cullet, rejecting material contamination.

The investment, part of a £1.5bn UK programme by Viridor, is big news for Britain’s recycling sector. Zero Waste Scotland Director, Iain Gulland, welcomed what he saw as a “major strategic investment in the Newhouse plant by Viridor, which will bring ‘best-in-class’ recycling technology to Scotland, helping create jobs directly and further down the supply chain.”

He added that “this new investment will help capitalise on the unique opportunity we have here in Scotland for a vibrant, world-leading glass reprocessing industry worth millions to our economy.”

It’s that “best-in-class” technology which will, for the first time, offer real sustainability to solutions to Scotland’s largest export sector.

In a market where premium products command premium prices, container quality can’t be compromised. Seen as a real boost by Scottish and UK Governments, the investment was viewed as a real game-changer by the Scotch Whisky Association who noted their sector’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

“By 2020”, the Association said, “distillers are committed to 40% of their product packaging being made from recycled materials.

Glass accounts for the vast majority of the packaging of Scotch and we welcome supply chain innovation which advances glass recycling.”

The success of the sector is however increasingly being compromised by a further double whammy of austerity and a prolonged decline in the value of commodities on global markets.

This is a real and significant threat to sustaining progress made to date and achievement of 2020 sector targets. Now is therefore the right time to reassess the opportunities and economics of a circular economy. Put simply we need a new economic realism.

In addition to going back to the future on front end inputs coupled with investment, we need to join up the value chain and create an economic model that encourages the next wave of investment in recycling technologies.

Britain’s PRN system, designed to hasten investment in infrastructure such as Newhouse (not funded through PRN), is today holding it back.

So, with an election fast approaching and opportunities to influence the economic debate, let’s look to celebrate our success, but focus on making the supply chain quality focused and sustainable. Let’s drink to that. Cheers.

Herman Van Der Meij
Viridor Resource Management

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