Scottish plant plugs glass gap

A facility that cleans hazardous glass from old TVs and computer monitors making it fit for reuse has opened to fill a gap in the WEEE market. Dean Stiles reports

A new reprocessing plant that boasts pioneering technology to treat glass recovered from televisions and computer monitors has opened for business in Irvine, Scotland. The facility, operated by Restructa, produces glass fit for reuse in the manufacture of similar product.

Formed in 2005, Restructa collects unwanted TV sets and monitors from council civic amenity sites across Scotland and other parts of the UK from compliance schemes and businesses. The sets are dismantled at the company's North Newmoor site to recover circuit boards, metals and plastics.

The glass tubes are split using a thermal shock process before being sent to the new facility for hazardous material recovery and cleaning. "We use a process developed in Germany by WKR to separate the glass fractions of the cathode ray tube," explains Bill Paterson, Restructa's commercial director.

Cleaning is carried out using a friction process where the glass is tumbled in batches for about an hour with the glass itself providing the abrasive agent. Additional processes through conveyors with filters and sensors remove unwanted material such as the graphite coating on the inside of the funnel glass. The phosphor coating on the panel glass has been previously removed using a vacuum system at the main plant.

The glass is handled in batches with around 14 tonnes of panel glass, the front of the television or monitor tube, taken in a through-pass lasting about five hours. Slightly less funnel glass, the rear part of the tube, is handled in each batch. Funnel glass is coated with graphite and, as the glass contains lead, it is classed as hazardous and requires the plant be licensed as a hazardous waste treatment facility. At the end of each stage, about a tonne of dust is produced.

A clean process
"We took over a year to look at the technology the world has to offer for glass cleaning plants, and ended up with the German company who supplied the prototype to an associate company of ours in Ireland," says Paterson.

"We saw the prototype and made various suggestions ourselves. The improvements, particularly on electro magnets, suction and filters to remove the dust, means our plant runs very cleanly - there is no dust around the place, which is a feature of this type of tumbling."

Material supply comes from household and trade waste streams. "We do collections from compliance schemes, local authority community sites and we also make business-to-business collections; about 70% of material is from compliance schemes and 30% is from businesses," says Paterson.

He adds: "We are also involved in the recycling of redundant IT kit from swap-outs, that's companies installing new computers and needing to dispose of the old equipment responsibly. We will gather all their old computers, securely clean and wipe all of the hard drives or destroy them with certification, if that is required.

"We got off to a good start last year when we were fortunate to have acquired a contract from a large government department. It took us a long time to persuade some local authorities to recycle this equipment and to do it properly but there is now no excuse for them not to appoint a compliance scheme to handle their WEEE collections. We have the process and facility to handle the volumes."

Restructa is negotiating with more local authorities, compliance schemes and business customers for future business and is promoting itself as the market leader for television and monitor recycling.

"We have succeeded in getting volume orders and recently ran our first two back-to-back, 12-hour shifts at the plant. We can manage up to one million TVs and monitors per year and we are the most cost-effective facility in Europe," claims Paterson.

Extra scrutiny bodes well
He says that the industry is seeing a tightening of the rules surrounding WEEE legislation and more scrutiny over compliance on correct disposal, which
is an advantage for companies such as Restructa that are doing things legitimately.

"This is an expensive process - licences and consignment notes to transport are expensive. We have to train staff. They need certificates of technical competence, which is also costly, so we are always wary of competition from others willing to flout the rules," he says.

Restructa's plant is an approved authorised treatment facility and, as such, entitled to issue evidence to government. The company says it has identified a strong market for the glass it produces, and is in negotiations with five manufacturers who are keen to purchase the product. The processed glass is sent direct to end-manufacturers in Malaysia, such as Samsung and Nippon Electric Glass.

"Previously, these companies never used recycled material - they did not trust it," says Paterson. "Now, with the new processes that we are applying to glass processing, they are delighted with the quality we produce. It can be used to supplement up to 80% of the glass for manufacture of new CRT-style televisions or monitors for which there is still a large demand."

Dean Stiles is a freelance journalist

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