Bottle recycling rates approaching glass ceiling

Glass recycling rates are continuing to climbing the UK but the increases are slowing, according to estimates published by the trade association which represents the industry.

British Glass has released its annual estimate of the tonnage of bottles and jars recycled by the container industry last year which suggests the UK reached a record level of 756,000 tonnes, 14,000 tonnes up on the 2005 figure.

But while the growth in recycling is encouraging the rate of growth has slowed to a snails pace, increasing by just 1.8% in 2006 compared with a healthy 10% in 2005.

The dip in growth has been blamed in part on the construction sector’s hunger for aggregates – a role easily and cheaply filled by smashed glass – but British Glass says this trend now casts doubt on glass recycling reaching the Packaging Waste Directive target of 60% by 2008.

Much of last year’s growth was due to a huge increase in the amount of glass recycled in the first quarter of this year. However, in second half of 2006 the amount of glass recycled to make new containers fell below the same period last year.

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.

“These figures are a concern,” said Rebecca Cocking, British Glass recycling manager.

“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.

“Whilst overall glass recycling has increased slightly in 2006 we are missing the opportunity to maximise the environmental benefits of closed-loop glass recycling,” said Mrs Cocking.

“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.

“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 and as a result the industry has to colour separate glass before it can be recycled. This is costly and ironically increases the energy we use.”

During the colour separation process the container industry looses up to 15% of the clear and amber glass as it cannot be effectively extracted 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.

“The UK faces an enormous challenge in realising the potential environmental and social benefits of glass recycling,” said Mrs Cocking.

“With growing levels of mixed collection these potential benefits are becoming much more uncertain as demonstrated by these figures.”

Sam Bond

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