URM celebrates 100 years of recycling glass

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Celebrating 100 years in business is a proud achievement for any business. In these uncertain times, it is especially welcome. As glass recycling specialist URM UK Ltd looks forward to the company centenary in 2022, it’s a fitting time to reflect on what has helped the business endure for so long.

URM truckKev Needham, URM’s Head of Operations, says: “Our stance has always been to never compromise on quality. We’ve built our reputation on this. If the material doesn’t meet our customer specifications, it doesn’t leave the site”.

Another significant principle is URM’s policy of not sending anything to landfill or aggregate if value can still be extracted from it. Kev continues: “Once we’ve extracted everything we can from the glass waste, it is then sent on for further processing, until everything that can possibly be reclaimed has been.”

As with many long-standing businesses, URM UK Ltd has undergone a few changes in its history. Previously known as Berrymans in the UK, its Australian-based URM owners changed the name to bring all parts of the business under one brand.

Tony Bearryman, a descendant of the original family continues to work at the company as business development manager. The simplifying of the family name Bearryman into Berryman was made early in the company’s history. 

Kev, who has been with the business for 13 years, looks after all production and engineering, alongside the procurement of the raw material, including bottles, jars, and plate glass.

He knows more than most about the challenges faced by the sector: “We already had a problem before Covid where there are too many raw glass bottles being exported or processed to aggregate – glass that is needed by the UK glass recycling market for remelting here.

“Once Covid hit and the hospitality sector shut down, the amount of glass bottles available for recycling on the market drastically reduced. The UK hasn’t stopped drinking, of course, it’s just where the drink is being consumed that has changed, from bars and restaurants to the home.”

This change means that bottles once collected from glass banks and hospitality outlets and destined directly for URM processing plants are now going to MRFs, which produce lower quality raw glass feedstock for the reprocessing plants.

Kev explains: “MRFs take away the metals, plastic and paper but the raw glass feedstock that is left is smaller in size and often heavily contaminated.”

URM has four processing sites in the UK, but only one is set up to deal with material from MRFs. As a result, it’s important to ensure that the good quality raw material is utilised as effectively as possible, whilst dealing with increased MRF volumes.

Kev adds: “As a business, we can only use a certain portion of MRF glass due to those all-important quality issues. It also impacts on pricing with the lower volumes of glass bank/hospitality glass driving that price up. Fortunately, we do have the capacity and processes to deal with this problem, but it’s an ongoing challenge to get the balance right”.

Looking to the future and the question of how the UK might achieve the European-wide glass collection target of 90 per cent, Needham is emphatic: “The most important thing is for glass to stay out of DRS. There is already an efficient infrastructure in place which delivers high recycling levels.

“The real danger is that councils won’t be able to keep running kerbside collections effectively if the volume drops off because of DRS. The Government should focus on improving what is already there and working, rather than scrapping it and starting again”.

When asked about the one thing he might change about the UK glass industry, Kev returns to one of URM’s guiding principles – keeping glass out of landfill: “There are lots of things I could say, but I think the most important would be to radically improve flat glass recycling.

“There’s a considerable amount of glass from construction and windscreens and so on currently going to waste that could be recycled. It needs a focus and a change similar to the PRN system to make it happen. Perfectly good quality glass going to landfill, in my opinion, is simply wrong”. 

An incentivised, flat glass recycling infrastructure? Now that would make a great 100th birthday present – the glass industry hopes the Government is listening.

British Glass is a representative body for the industry, with a membership encompassing comapanies from across the full glass supply chain. To learn more, visit their website.