The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact across the economy and sectors including the packaging and recycling industries have not been immune from its reach. Social distancing guidelines meant that many household waste and recycling centres have been closed, such that households have relied more on kerbside collections for their recycling, according to WRAP
Local authorities across Scotland have seen their recycling rates rocket in 2020 as families have stayed at home making increased use of their kerbside collections. Whilst we all look forward to putting this year behind us, we must take this behaviour change as a positive and ensure we maintain these excellent levels of recycling. From the pandemic, there is an opportunity for a broad, green recovery that should be grasped by government, industry and consumers as part of the wider economic recovery. While the Scottish Government’s Circular Economy Bill was an unfortunate casualty of the pandemic all political parties in Holyrood should prioritise similar policies ahead of the elections next year.
We agree with the Scottish Government that an innovative circular economy can improve productivity and sustainability if we transform the way we produce, consume, reuse and recycle materials linked to the goods we need. There is a huge amount that the government and other sectors can learn from the glass industry to make this a reality across the economy.
Glass is one of the most sustainable materials on Earth - it is 100% recyclable, can be melted and re-melted without ever reducing its quality, and is endlessly re-usable. Using recycled glass to makes new bottles reduces the energy required and the carbon footprint to make glass bottles. That is why we have set out our ambition for a 90% rate of collection for recycling by 2030. This is not a CSR publicity stunt – it is in the interests of glass manufacturers to increase the amount of recycled glass remelted back into new bottles and jars on the market. The British glass industry was an early adopter of circular economy principles for these obvious reasons; it makes economic and social sense.
And consumers agree. Research by Friends of Glass, finds around 9 in 10 consumers would recommend glass as the best form of packaging, as purchasing decisions are increasingly driven by recyclability and environmental considerations.
British Glass and its members were disappointed by the Scottish Parliament’s recent decision to include certain glass containers in the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). The DRS will be introduced in July 2022 and will see consumers pay a 20p deposit on drinks containers which will be reimbursed at the point of return.
International evidence shows that including glass in a DRS could have many unintended consequences, which stand against the concept of a truly circular economy. In our view, the decision to include glass in Scotland’s DRS will incentivise a switch to plastic packaging and increase the use of raw materials, as well as increasing carbon emissions.
We believe that a more effective and efficient kerbside recycling system would be a better vehicle for increasing the quantity and quality of recycled glass. The UK glass sector has an excellent recycling record of 68.8%, but we know there is more to do. That is why we have set out our ambition to achieve a 90% collection rate by 2030.
Worryingly, one in four Scottish consumers say they won’t be returning their glass bottles to collect the deposit according to a survey we commissioned last year. If kerbside glass collections become less viable due to reduced participation as predicted, this means more glass ending up in landfill and less back in the glass furnaces making new bottles and jars. By installing an expensive and cumbersome infrastructure to enable glass collection, the government is ignoring alternative methods, including l digital solutions, that could make reverse vending machines redundant in a matter of years.
We all know more needs to be done to increase recycling, tackle litter, and move toward creating a circular economy for all packaging formats. While we do not think a DRS will achieve this for glass, we will continue to work with government to find solutions to making a circular economy in Scotland a reality.