Sibelco: A British Glass case study

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When it comes to size and reach across the glass supply chain, there’s not many that can match the scale and scope of Antwerp-based Sibelco. Operational in thirty countries and employing over 5,000 people, the company, which is well known for its quarrying, mining and minerals business, has recently been increasing its glass recycling portfolio in the UK.

Sibelco British GlassSibelco bought Viridor’s glass recycling business in June this year, scooping up three processing plants in Peterborough, Sheffield and Motherwell as part of the deal. These join Sibelco’s established glass recycling facilities in several European countries, including France, Italy and Belgium.

“This expansion of our glass recycling capacity complements our existing product offering to customers” says Craig Robinson, Commercial Director of Sibelco Green Solutions (SGS). “It means customers already coming to us for silicas and minerals can now also add glass cullet to their shopping list.”

Taking care of its customers is obviously something Sibelco does well as 2022 will see the company celebrate its 150th anniversary.

“We’re proud of the way the business has continued to grow over the years” says Robinson “It’s fair to say we’re an ambitious company that is always looking for opportunities to invest and grow. One of the secrets of this success I think is the quality of its people and the technical expertise they bring. Another is that it is a very well-structured and run operation.”

While this means the company is well placed to continue its path of growth, Robinson acknowledges that the glass recycling sector faces tough challenges ahead.

“There’s a lot of change coming from a regulatory point of view, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). There will be significant changes in supply and how glass is being presented to us. This will mean adapting to how we work with the supply chain, how we invest in our plants and how we can maximise the cullet yield.”

One particular concern with the arrival of DRS in Scotland, is how local authorities will react.

“We are very aware that local authorities are under increasing financial pressure, and understandably will be looking to cut costs where they can. Recycling collections are an obvious target. It’s important to maintain quantity, but quality is also key.”

The last 18 months has meant that the company has already had to deal with significant drops in supply following the closure of the hospitality sector due to the pandemic.

“With bars, pubs and restaurants closed, an important source of glass all but dried up. Even with the reopening of this sector, I don’t think we’ll see a return to pre-Covid levels for some time.”

When asked about how the UK glass sector might achieve the European-wide glass collection target of 90 per cent, Robinson believes an increase in segregated kerbside collection will be a crucial factor.

“With the current rate at 76 per cent, the low hanging fruit has already gone, so to get that next 14 per cent is going to be tough. Even the existing 76 per cent is potentially under threat due to Covid and the coming DRS. One area that could help would be greater segregation at the kerbside. Glass commingled with other materials and processed via MRFs has been around for a number of years but has always proved problematic.”

Glass from MRFs is lower quality due to smaller cullet size and higher levels of contamination from materials such as cardboard.

“There’s more packaging in the household recycling box than ever before thanks to an increase in online shopping. Cardboard in particular has significantly increased. Unfortunately cardboard and glass mixed together isn’t great for either material” explains Robinson.

When it comes to one change he would like to see in the glass industry, Robinson agrees with many that reform of the PRN system is the obvious choice.

“The current system no longer achieves what it is supposed to and actually creates market disruption and inconsistency. We’ve got EPN and DRS on the way, so it’s time for the PRN to be made fit for the needs of today and tomorrow.”

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