Veolia opens 'world-first' closed-loop glass recycling facility

A new £10m high-tech recycling facility which turns glass into insulation has been hailed as a "real boost" for the UK's circular economy.

The proximity of the new facility to Knauf Insulation’s manufacturing plant, which sits next door, means that around 375,000 miles of road journeys will be saved

The proximity of the new facility to Knauf Insulation’s manufacturing plant, which sits next door, means that around 375,000 miles of road journeys will be saved

More than 60,000 tonnes of household glass will be transformed into energy-saving insulation solutions at the “world-first” facility in St Helens, Merseyside. Used glass bottles and jars will be separated and refined by state-of-the-art technology to deliver an “ultra-pure” glass cullet.

The glass collected equates to more than 350 million bottles thrown out each year. More than 12,000 tonnes of CO2 are expected to be avoided with 76,000MWh energy saved, compared with traditional methods of manufacturing mineral wool insulation.

The site has been officially opened by project partners Knauf Insulation and waste management specialists Veolia, whose senior executive VP Estelle Brachlianoff described the  investment as “good for jobs, good for the community and good for the planet”.

She said: “To see our site officially open today is a vote of confidence in our technology and the quality of cullet we produce - and by using a significant amount of this glass in its manufacturing process, Knauf Insulation is setting the standard for other manufacturers to follow – making use of recycled material mainstream rather than niche.

“We want to see this first-of-its kind partnership pave the way for others; where waste is seen as an indispensable commodity and given a completely new lease of life. It would be fantastic to see more key industry players follow Knauf Insulation and incorporate circular economy thinking into production.”

Circular boost

The new facility will dry and refine the glass into a recycled standard that has been cleaned and crushed into small fragments. The cullet will then then be fed into a furnace where it is melted and spun into glass mineral wool in order to manufacture energy saving insulation products.

The proximity of the new facility to Knauf Insulation’s manufacturing plant, which sits next door, means that around 375,000 miles of road journeys will be saved. It enables Knauf Insulation to secure its glass supply and maximise the use of recycled, rather than virgin, materials. 

Knauf Insulation’s Northern Europe managing director John Sinfield said the move would take the company further on its “sustainability journey” by increasing the proportion of glass cullet used in the manufacture of its insulation solutions.

“This is also a real boost for the circular economy and the fact we have delivered this in partnership with Veolia demonstrates what can be achieved when two leaders in their respective fields work together to achieve mutual goals.”

Closed-loop business

Veolia’s vision of achieving a closed-loop business has led to the company undergoing a series of innovative new processes, including the creation of a giant energy-from-waste (EfW) facility in Leeds.

The plant was opened in the same month that Veolia released a report which revealed that companies located in "strategically important" sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn "hidden mine" that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy.

George Ogleby


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