British Glass – a case study
Getting the best out of things comes naturally to Tim Gent. Whether it’s the glass his family business Recresco processes for recycling, or his 85-strong workforce that know that there are always opportunities for career progression in the business.
Recresco was founded by Tim’s father in 1978 as a glass bottle collection service for hotels. As the business grew, so did the volume and collection opportunities, and Recresco became one of the first to introduce bottle banks to the UK. The business then moved into processing, which in time became the main activity and the collection lorries were phased out.
Tim explains: “We saw early on that there was just so much scope for innovation in processing. That’s where we wanted our focus to be, and it has remained so ever since.”
Recresco, headquartered in Nottinghamshire with depots in South Wales and Cheshire, is known for being a major investor in cutting-edge glass processing technologies and uses a fully automated system with no picking belts at all.
“There’s a real satisfaction in matching the right technical solution to the problem,” says Tim.
“Whatever we do, it’s always about enabling us to present the glass in the best possible condition. We enjoy trying out new equipment, it holds our interest, as does the constantly evolving nature of glass processing.
“Our focus on innovation means this is more than just a business for us – it’s about constantly testing ourselves against new challenges and finding interesting ways forward. Glass has a way of keeping us on our toes.
“For example, just when you think you’ve solved a contamination problem, a new one will come along. We’re working with smaller and smaller pieces of contamination. It’s never boring – that’s for sure.”
Contamination issues are not the only challenges in the world of glass processing, though. Tim believes that the sector’s highly competitive nature means that some operators are prepared to have periods running at a loss, which unfortunately drives down prices for everyone.
“It’s a very dangerous situation because if you try and compete with someone who is prepared to make a loss, there’s no capacity for investment and it just ends up being a race to the bottom,” explains Tim.
“The glass sector is a continually changing environment and we need to be investing so that recycling rates and quality can rise. The Government’s targets demand that we keep pushing for this – and rightly so, but if you’re not profitable and not able to invest in the future, it just won’t work.”
On the subject of targets, Tim’s view of how the UK can achieve the European-wide glass collection target of 90 per cent is clear: “I absolutely guarantee this is possible, but only with Government support. It needs to be incentivised though the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system.
“The PRN is the Government’s weapon of choice, which already works, and the more value in the PRN, the more glass recycling will increase. Businesses will be able to invest in better equipment, upgrade their plants, all leading to higher recycling levels. By increasing the value of glass, you’ll keep it out of the ground. After all, no one sends gold to landfill.”
One looming problem the sector faces is the introduction of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). The Scottish roll-out of the system announced in 2020 it will include glass bottles in its remit, despite strong opposition from all parts of the glass industry. This doesn’t bode well for England and Wales, which are expected to follow suit.
“I believe the DRS will be devastating to our industry,” says Tim.
“I guess people are well-intentioned but it’s a backwards step. The way to increase glass recycling is through industry targets, not by putting 20p onto the retail cost and then asking consumers to drag their empties back to the store to get a refund. There will be those who really need that 20p too. It’s clear that the only ones benefiting from including glass in the DRS are going to be the manufacturers of the reverse vending machines. It’s a catastrophic mistake.”
When asked what one thing he might change about the industry, Tim suggests that doing away with treating aggregates as recycling would be top of his list.
“Currently 25 per cent of all glass in the UK goes to aggregate, which is glass lost forever to the system. Like everyone, we currently include aggregates, but I wouldn’t put it in if it didn’t count as recycling.”
“We need to incentivise remelt over aggregate – it’s as simple as that. I realise there is a fear of missing recycling targets but by gradually working away over time at the percentage that is allowed in the PRN system, it could be done.”
And for a man who is known for getting the best out of things, changing the system to help get more glass into remelt makes perfect sense.