Making a new bottle out of recycled glass uses less energy, compared to using virgin materials. For every 10 percent increase in recycled content in a new glass bottle, you reduce energy required to produce it by 3 percent to 5 percent. This means a reduced carbon footprint — as well as lower utility bills and bottle prices — for all companies involved.
But glass, which is endlessly recyclable as opposed to other materials such as paper, has a miserable recovery and recycling rate in the US.
“We don’t have high recycling rates for much of anything in the US but they are low for glass — about 25 to 30 percent,” said Roberta Barbieri, Diageo’s global environmental director, in an interview with Environmental Leader. Some European countries’ glass recycling rates, she says, reach 70 percent.
“Glass is 100 percent recyclable,” said Katie Wallace, New Belgium Brewing’s assistant director of sustainability. “There are glass plants around the world making bottles with 96 percent recycled content and we would like the US to be one of those.”
The supply-demand discrepancy is a major problem for the entire glass recycling value chain. And now more than 20 companies across this value chain are coming together to fix it.
In an exclusive interview with Environmental Leader, sustainability executives from Diageo and New Belgium Brewing say the two beverage makers, along with the Glass Packaging Institute and the glass processing and recycling industry, have formed a coalition to make glass recycling a successful industry in the US.
The US Glass Recycling Coalition’s members include consumer brands, glass manufacturers, waste haulers, recycling processors, and trade organizations. It’s the first time companies across the entire glass supply chain have worked together toward this common goal, the groups say.
The impetus behind the coalition began a year ago at a Diageo workshop with representatives from companies across the glass recycling value chain.
“A lot of time was being spent debating policy solutions to recycling in general in the US,” Barbieri said. “Everyone agrees recycling is not being done very well in the US but people don’t agree what the best policy solutions are at the federal, state and local level. Because of that debate, no progress was being made. We saw an opportunity to get people in a room, take policy off of the table and put solutions on the table and we wanted to talk with anyone with an interest in glass recycling about ways we could collaborate as a glass value chain to scale up best practices. A year later, that conversation turned into our official coalition.”
The coalition met on April 21, 2016 for an inaugural session hosted by the Glass Packaging Institute in Washington DC. Members have each paid a $5,000 membership fee. The coalition includes: Allagash Brewing Company, Ardagh Group, Diageo (co-founder), Gallo Glass Company, Glass Packaging Institute (co-founder), Goose Island Beer Company, Heineken USA, NAIMA (North American Insulation Manufacturing Association, Inc.), New Belgium Brewing (co-founder), National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), O-I, Pratt Industries, The Recycling Partnership, Resource Recycling Systems (facilitator), Republic Services, Ripple Glass, Rocky Mountain Bottle Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Sims Municipal Recycling, Strategic Materials, Inc. and Waste Management.
Glass recycling can pose challenges on the recycling infrastructure if not planned for and executed correctly. It can easily contaminate other recycling streams. It’s heavier, and thus cost more, to haul to recycling facilities. And it’s abrasive, and can be hard on recycling equipment. In addition, a few municipalities have decided to remove glass from their curbside recycling programs and send it to land fills instead.
Coalition members will work on bringing best practices to the US glass recycling supply chain to increase the availability of “cullet,” the industry term for furnace-ready recycled glass that can become new bottles and jars, as well as fiberglass.
Two North Carolina material recovery facilities, for example, are installing sorting equipment at the front-end of the recycling process instead of recovering glass at the end of the process, which is when it usually happens. “This saves the equipment from wear and tear and contamination that happens later in the process,” Wallace said.
For companies like Diageo and New Belgium Brewing, glass is not being recycled at a high enough rate to meet the beverage makers’ needs for recycled glass to make new bottles. Using recycled glass will help companies lower their energy costs and also reduce risk, Wallace says.
“In the future, with material shortages due to climate change issues and resource scarcity, using a finite resource that is endlessly recyclable is a smart, long-term business solution,” she explained. “And as energy becomes more expensive, if we can create products with less energy that will be a smart business move as well.”
Photo Credit: glass bottles via Shutterstock
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