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End market options for post-consumer glass

Companies are reluctant to accept Ontario’s glass due to the high level of contamination


In 2018, 78,076 tonnes of clear and mixed coloured glass were reported as being marketed to end users according to the RPRA Datacall. The majority of this volume was marketed to NexCycle Industries. The combined factors of the proximity to Ontario MRFs and their ability to manage post-consumer material has made NexCycle the logical choice over the years for many Ontario municipalities. Haulage to alternative markets has tended to be expensive with many being unreliable.

At the outset of Ontario’s Blue Box Program, glass was colour separated at the curb into individual compartments on board the recycling truck. The process was labour intensive, but eliminated processing costs at the MRF and generated marketable material worth significant revenue (i.e., upwards of $28/MT, according to recyclingmarkets.net).

The advent of co-collection of glass and containers in both two stream and single-stream programs reduced collection costs but resulted in the creation of a contaminated and often unmarketable glass stream. Municipalities and private MRF operators across the province responded to this challenge by moving glass separation to the front end of the MRF process and installing glass clean-up systems where economically possible. However, the output still requires significant clean up in order to be marketable.

The typical curbside glass stream post clean-up in the MRF has a composition of around 60% to 70% mixed broken glass (MBG), 10% ‘fines’ (i.e., glass fragments <2” in size) and 20% to 30% non-glass contamination such as ceramics and drinking glasses. Bottle caps, straws, small pieces of plastic and paper are prevalent in the MBG stream and even if the MRF has glass clean-up technology in place, it still can be very difficult to remove the majority of the non-container glass contamination prior to shipping to end markets. MRFs without glass clean-up systems often have an additional 10-20% non-glass contamination present in their outbound glass loads. The chart to the right shows the composition of a MBG load from a representative municipality in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The MBG (usable glass) to fines ratio is 68% to 19%. The non-glass contamination is 13%.

Depending on the end-use for the MBG, each specific end market has varying limits to the allowable contamination which can preclude some municipalities from being eligible suppliers to these end markets. One common end market for MBG is the production of fibreglass. Similarly, contaminated glass and fines are often used as daily landfill cover and road base, if the material meets MTO standards.

The Dilemma

As noted, Nexcycle is the major receiver of Ontario’s post-consumer glass. After glass has been cleaned and colour sorted, it is primarily sent to container and fibreglass markets outside of Canada with the remainder going to specialized bead, abrasive and other markets. With the fibreglass industry being one of their main markets, their ability to receive glass is directly linked to the demand generated by housing production. Any drop in housing production in Ontario can create a scenario where supply would exceed demand for an unspecified period of time. Even if markets remain healthy, all the discussion about circular economies has failed to recognize that there is no significant home for glass fines which represent a significant proportion of the glass stream. NexCycle has added technology to recover a higher percentage of the fines. The technology is expensive and works, but has limitations.

NexCycle has reiterated its commitment to post-consumer glass recycling and has taken significant investment in capital to support Ontario’s Blue Box Program in recent years. Despite this commitment, last fall, CIF undertook a market scan to identify additional glass end markets that may be able to accept Ontario’s curbside generated glass in the event that NexCycle Industries is unable to accept some or all of Ontario’s curbside generated glass for a period of time.

Current and Future Capacity for Ontario’s MBG

(excluding NexCycle Industries)

Region Current Excess Capacity (MT) Potential Future Capacity (MT)*
Total 20,500 40,000
Ontario/Quebec 2,000 40,000
US (MI, OH, PA, NY, NJ) 18,500

*within the next 24 months

End Markets

The primary focus of the study was to identify capacity for MBG generated by the Ontario Blue Box Program. The study regions included Ontario, Quebec and the US Great Lake States (a map of these end markets can be found in Appendix A of “Glass End Markets: Final Report“). The results for current excess capacity and potential future capacity (within the next 24 months) can be seen in the table to the left.

The preliminary findings suggest that there are 20,500 tonnes of available MBG capacity at end markets in Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. In the next twenty-four months, an additional 40,000 tonnes of additional capacity is expected to come online, bringing the total surplus capacity to 60,500 tonnes of MBG. This additional capacity should be able to handle the majority of MBG being generated from Ontario’s municipalities subject to meeting the required market quality specifications.

Challenges

As summarized above, there is, or will be, capacity to consume the majority of Ontario’s MBG. However, there are some key challenges to access the available end markets.

End Market Specifications: To become a supplier to glass end markets, municipalities need to determine the required material quality specifications and institute the necessary processes and/or additional clean-up technology to meet or exceed the requirements.

Distance to End Markets: The majority of glass end markets that may be able to process Ontario’s curbside glass are located outside of Ontario. Cost to transport Ontario glass to these end markets can be significant. In addition to the transportation cost, there is likely a processing fee for MBG which may further make these options cost prohibitive.

Market Development Opportunities

There are several glass recyclers in Ontario that have in the past, or are currently, recycling curbside glass, including:

  • Canadian Liquid Processors (Hamilton): Previously accepted curbside glass to process into glass cullet for manufacturing. They currently do not accept curbside glass due to excessive contamination
  • Curran Recycling (Sarnia): Previously accepted curbside glass to be used as an aggregate substitute. They currently do not accept curbside glass due to excessive contamination
  • Niagara Recycling (Niagara Falls): Produce sand blast and medium
  • Poraver North America (Innisfil): Building materials and industrial products

Each of these companies could potentially consume Ontario’s curbside glass.  However, in each case, the companies are reluctant to accept Ontario’s glass due to the high level of contamination and the financial commitment required to undertake the necessary clean-up and processing to produce a marketable product.

These challenges also represent opportunities for Ontario MRFs to work with existing markets to understand specifications and determine cost/benefit of making modifications in Ontario MRFs to meet end market specifications.

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This project was funded by the Continuous Improvement Fund.  The blog was republished with permission.