Vehicle Glass Recycling
Glass is one of the easiest materials to recycle, so you won’t be surprised to read that your car windscreen and windows are recycled. But the way in which they are recycled poses a few problems.
In the UK, the glass in your scrap car is usually handled in one of two ways:
It is removed from the car before the car is crushed.
The glass panels are then sent to a glass recycling centre, where they are processed. This usually involves removing the plastic laminate from the glass (which is a legal safety requirement) and breaking and sorting the glass according to size, purity and colour. This glass cullet (small pieces of glass) can then be used to create other glass products (flat glass for windows etc., glass for containers, fibreglass, and aggregate for construction materials.
Your car is crushed with the glass still in place.
The glass then has to be sorted from the crushed materials and processed into a cullet. As the glass is broken and crushed, it would take a lot more processing to process it into a high quality cullet, and so this is not commercially viable. Instead, the glass usually goes through a less intensive sequence of sorting and processing, and is used to create a lower quality cullet. This cullet has much fewer uses, for example, it may be used as a secondary aggregate in the construction industry but would be unsuitable for use in glass containers.
Nick Kirk, Technical Director of GTS – Glass Technology Services Ltd told us:
“The recovered cullet from crushed vehicles is likely to be of a quality that would require further glass processing for remelt back into flat or container glass, therefore, alternative uses such as aggregates, construction products tend to be the likely option.”
From a recycling perspective, the preferred method is to remove the glass panels whole, as this makes it easier and more cost-effective to recycle the glass into a higher quality of glass cullet (pieces of glass). The technology exists to remove the laminate safety sheet from the glass quite easily, and so this leaves a greater percentage of uncontaminated glass.
However, it is far more likely that the glass in your car will not be removed before the car is crushed.
Would it Be Better for ATFs to Remove the Glass Before Crushing?
Recycling centres can make better quality glass cullet (and therefore, more money) if ATFs supply glass unbroken. But there is no benefit to the ATFs – they would have the extra costs of removing the glass, but the higher value is unlikely to cover the cost.
Glass for Europe estimate that the cost of removing automotive glass is around “€4 - €5 per vehicle” and that it takes approximately 5 minutes.
Why would an ATF take the time and expense to remove the glass before crushing the car when there is no commercial benefit to be had? Only 3%  of an end of life vehicle is glass, and the value of glass is quite low.
What Could the Future Hold?
How could ATFs be encouraged to remove the glass before crushing the car?
A financial incentive. As glass is low value, this would need to come in the form of a grant or some other benefit.
ATFs could be made, by law, to remove the glass first, but what sort of result would this achieve? Would it force some businesses to close? Would it feel like another round of unfair costs being forced on the industry? Most likely, yes.
But a far more likely solution is that ATFs won’t need to remove the glass. Instead, technology will provide the answer.
According to Glass for Europe
“Allowing glass to remain in the vehicle during the shredding process is a useful alternative to dismantling. Processes involving Post-Shredding Technologies (PST) offer sound solutions both economically and environmentally for the treatment of ELVs and the optimal use of the residues.“
Nick Kirk also believes technology may be the answer. .”Technology is available but tends to be uneconomic for achieving the quality for remelt.” he said, “This may change with [the development of] more efficient technology.”
To meet recycling targets, more materials from ELVs are going to have to be recycled. Improving on the amount of glass that is reused is definitely achievable, but costly at the moment. It also remains to be seen where the change in processes will take place – will recycling companies be able to invest in technology that can recycle glass from crushed cars more efficiently? Or will ATFs be given a commercial reason to remove the glass before crushing?