British Glass: mixed glass obstacle to recycling growth

The annual amount of glass recycled to make new bottles and jars has increased to a record 756,000 tonnes according to estimates from British Glass. The preliminary figures from the trade association`…

The annual amount of glass recycled to make new bottles and jars has increased to a record 756,000 tonnes according to estimates from British Glass. The preliminary figures from the trade association“s members indicate that the UK container industry recycled an additional 14,000 tonnes of glass in 2006, up from 742,000 tonnes in 2005. Whilst the growth in recycling continues, the rate of growth has slowed from 10% in 2005 to 1.8% in 2006. British Glass says the reduced growth rate is in large part due to increased demand for aggregates and casts doubts on glass recycling reaching the Packaging Waste Directive target of 60% by 2008. Much of the growth in 2006 was due to a huge increase in the amount of glass recycled in the 1Q of the year. However, in the 2H of the year the amount of glass recycled to make new containers fell below the same period 2005. Official DEFRA figures show the total glass recycling in quarter three of 2006 was 314,180 tonnes compared with 325,993 in the same period of 2005. Commenting on the data, Rebecca Cocking, British Glass recycling manager said: “These figures are a concern. If this slow-down continues there must be real doubt about future targets. Already we need an additional 125,000 tonnes to reach the 2007 target. Whilst some of our Members believe unaccredited collectors could be stockpiling glass, it“s unlikely to have an impact on this year“s figures”. The DEFRA figures also reveal that demand for glass for alternative markets such as aggregates has remained strong. The container industry believes the growth of mixed collection is driving the expansion in aggregates use as mixed collections reduce the amount of quality colour-separated glass going to make new bottles and jars. Mrs Cocking added: “Whilst overall glass recycling has increased slightly in 2006, we are missing the opportunity to maximise the environmental benefits of closed-loop glass recycling”. “Maximising the amount of colour-separated cullet going to the UK glass container industry delivers the biggest environmental benefit in energy use and reduced emissions. Last year alone glass recycling reduced UK CO2 emissions by around 200,000 tonnes”. She continued: “The container sector could absorb much higher tonnages of glass – but such growth can only come from the greater volumes of clear and brown glass, ideally from colour-separated collections. “The growth of mixed glass collection is reducing the availability of clear and brown glass. As a result the industry has to colour-separate glass before it can be recycled, which is costly and ironically, increases the energy we use”. During the colour separation process the container industry loses up to 15% of the clear and amber glass as it cannot be effectively extraced and is left with the remaining green glass. A significant amount of this mixed glass has to be exported to other container manufacturers in Europe or, where it is very poor quality, alternative markets have to be found. Mrs Cocking concluded: “The UK faces an enormous challenge in realising the potential environmental and social benefits of glass recycling. With growing levels of mixed collection, these potential benefits are becoming much more uncertain as demonstrated by these figures”.