Clear Intentions

Glass container manufacturers set 50 percent recycled content goal.

May 1, 2009

5 Min Read
Clear Intentions

Joe Cattaneo

In December 2008, Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) member companies agreed to the goal of using at least 50 percent recycled glass in the manufacture of new glass bottles and jars by 2013.

This target recognizes the growing need to protect the environment and conserve energy. Energy costs drop about 2 to 3 percent for every 10 percent of cullet used in the glass manufacturing process. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) benefits calculator, the GPI estimates that the energy saved by using 50 percent recycled content in all glass packages manufactured in the United States could power more than 45,000 households for a year.

Beyond energy benefits, the use of cullet saves natural raw materials — sand, soda ash and limestone — ton for ton. And recycling glass containers provides for a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of CO2, a greenhouse gas, is eliminated. A relative 10 percent increase in cullet reduces particulates by 8 percent, nitrogen oxide by 4 percent and sulfur oxides by 10 percent.

So, how will the industry achieve this goal? As an end-user market for the majority of cullet that is collected, the glass container industry is prepared to pursue measures that efficiently and cost-effectively improve glass recovery.

Collection and Cullet Quality

To start, the GPI has long been committed to promoting recycling in the United States. Its member companies were early proponents of drop-off collection centers and later of curbside recycling. The industry has also actively supported efforts to initiate best practices for single-stream curbside collection.

The trend to single-stream recycling impacts the quality of all materials recovered, and especially glass containers, compromising the use of this material for the manufacture of new glass bottles. A 2008 study in northern Colorado on best practices for glass recycling found that the glass capture rates from single-stream collection may only reach 30 percent. That rate increases to almost 100 percent for drop-off collection programs.

To untangle all the recyclables, the focus is on expanding and improving handling and sorting technologies. This includes optical sorting equipment at materials recovery facilities and more glass processing plants to remove contaminants and color sort glass. About 73 cullet processors in 29 states continue to investigate new technologies to improve cullet quality, allowing recovered glass to remain a viable commodity for bottle-to-bottle recycling.

New Sources for Recycled Glass

Looking beyond the curb for high-quality cullet, glass manufacturers are encouraging bottle recycling in commercial settings such as bars, restaurants, wineries and hotels. Glass can comprise up to 90 percent of that packaging mix. With the encouragement of new laws, nearby glass markets and local activism, bar and restaurant recycling initiatives are taking shape in states like California, Colorado, Indiana and North Carolina.

In North Carolina, for example, a 2008 law requiring alcohol beverage control (ABC) permit holders to recycle beverage containers yielded an additional 40,000 tons of these recyclables in 2008, according to the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance. Ten new businesses have been established for recycling and hauling services, and of the 8,500 ABC permit holders — mostly bars and restaurants — more than 7,500 are in compliance with the law. Glass processors also have noticed an increase in the quality of the recovered glass.

The Legislative Front

Glass container manufacturers are accelerating their support of legislative and regulatory measures that have the potential to improve glass recycling systems. This includes engaging with policymakers to improve and build on state beverage deposit programs. While current laws and deposit amounts differ, all tend to improve the quality of glass collected for recycling and increase the percentage of containers going to bottle-to-bottle recycling. This year, nearly all of the 11 states with existing container deposit legislation are looking to either expand the types of containers collected through these programs or increase the deposit amount to encourage participation.

Glass manufacturers are also interested in seeing more glass containers recycled in high-quality programs, such as source separated residential and commercial collection systems. For example, they supported bar/restaurant recycling legislation proposed in Maryland earlier this year, which was similar to North Carolina's ABC law. HB 249, a tax credit to assist ABC permit holders in complying with North Carolina's law requiring them to recycle beverage containers, also is being advocated.

Nationally, the GPI and its members are working with congressional offices to establish better systems for collecting high-quality cullet. Glass container manufacturers hope to establish incentives for glass recycling as part of upcoming climate change legislation. This includes providing incentives for companies that use recycled content in their manufacturing process, thereby reducing emissions.

Public Education and Outreach

The latest EPA report shows the national glass recycling rate jumped to 28.1 percent in 2007, up three percentage points from 2006 (25.3 percent). It is estimated that 3.2 million tons of glass were recovered in 2007, compared to 2.9 million in 2006. For glass beer and soft drink bottles, the rate was 34.5 percent, a boost from 30.7 percent in 2006. In states with container deposit legislation, rates are much higher. In California, for example, the glass recycling rate averages more than 70 percent.

To maintain this momentum and accommodate the dramatic slowdown in the sale of most recyclable materials worldwide, the GPI issued a statement last year emphasizing the industry's need for more recycled glass containers. Cullet is typically recycled domestically and is not subject to worldwide market pressures. According to a study by O-I, the world's largest manufacturer of glass containers for food and beverages, the demand for quality cullet in North America exceeds the current availability by approximately 1 million tons. The GPI continues to encourage all Americans to recycle their glass bottles and jars.

Joe Cattaneo is president of the Washington-based Glass Packaging Institute.

Want to Know More?

Joe Cattaneo will speak at the “Glass and Metal Recycling: A Market Outlook” session at WasteExpo on Monday, June 8 as part of the Recycling Track. The session runs from 3:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Bill Heenan, president of the Pittsburgh-based Steel Recycling Institute, will be the other speaker.

The session focuses on taking advantage of the best commodity markets. Cattaneo and Heenan will discuss fluctuating markets, trends, and policies for glass and metal recycling.

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