This week the BBC reported that the amount of household waste being rejected for recycling has increased 84% over the past four years – and shone a light on a problem that the UK glass industry has been battling for some time.
The simple truth is that UK glass manufacturers want to use more recycled content – doing so reduces CO2 emissions, saves energy and helps to drive down overall production costs. In fact, increasing the recycled content of glass packaging is a key part of the UK glass industry’s Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation 2050 action plan.
But in recent years manufacturers have indeed seen a decline in the quality of cullet (glass for recycling) available to them – which is why British Glass has been lobbying government and working with manufacturers and waste processors to stop glass being lost from the recycling loop for some time.
Head of container affairs at British Glass, Rebecca Cocking says:
“We estimate around 39% of post-consumer glass waste currently doesn’t get re-melted back to glass – and ends up as aggregate, or being lost to landfill or incineration. That’s just not good enough because almost all of this could be made back into bottles and jars.”
British Glass believes part of the reason recycling reject rate is going up is an increase in so-called ‘co-mingled’ systems – where multiple materials are collected together from households, for later separation at a materials recovery facility.
“Many local authorities adopted these systems to increase the overall quantity of material recovered – but the unintended consequence can be greater losses further along the process. Results from comingled collections seem to suggest that as the number of materials collected together increases, so does confusion about what householders can and can’t include – leading to more unsuitable items being collected.”
Inclusion of non-target materials causes problems when the comingled waste reaches the materials recovery facility (MRF). The more non-target material it contains, the harder it is to separate, sell on and recycle. When the ratio of non-target material exceeds a certain point it can’t be recycled cost-effectively.
Compared to many other packaging materials, glass is straightforward: all bottles and jars are all made from a single material that doesn’t have to be lined to avoid tainting or leaching –making if far simpler to recycle then most other materials. That’s why it is particularly frustrating that so much glass is being lost from the recycling loop.
The only glass that people need to keep out of household recycling is ovenware, drinkware and light bulbs which, because they are chemically different and melt at a higher temperature, causing problems if they get into a packaging glass furnace.
“Material science, manufacturing, retail and consumer behaviour are all complex. We have to get people at all points of the recycling loop talking to each other and working together to make a genuine impact on recycling rates. British Glass is already channelling its manufacturing members’ expertise into work with local authorities, brands and retailers – because all of us, and the planet, will reap the benefits if we can crack this.”
If you work with glass packaging in any of the following capacities:
- waste collector or processor
and want to find out more about British Glass' work to improve glass recycling rates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org telling us where you work, your job title and a little bit about your particular interests or concerns.