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Feature: Balancing act

As the drive continues to recycle and conserve resources, one thing is proving a great obstacle in the way that glass is dealt with — and that is our drinking habits. Most of the UK’s leading makers of spirits sell their produce in clear glass bottles, but the most widely consumed beverage in the UK is wine, most of which is imported in green bottles.

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) materials sector manager for glass Andy Dawe says: “The UK exports lots of spirits in clear bottles while it imports a large amount of wine in green bottles. This obviously creates a discrepancy for reusing and recycling as two-thirds of UK manufacturers use clear glass and they cannot enter green bottles into their process.”

Perhaps it would make sense in conservation terms for the UK’s industries to convert their packaging to green glass. But this is unlikely to happen.

Dawe added: “While a few companies such as Glenfiddich and Gordon’s Gin sell their produce in green bottles, the others use clear glass purely for historical reasons. The medium is synonymous with their brands and, more than anything, it allows the consumer to see the tint and colour of the spirit. For these reasons, the majority are unlikely to change.”

WRAP has considered focusing more effort on trying to convert UK retailers to buying from manufacturers who sell wine in clear glass bottles. But, in all, the country faces a massive problem. Annually, the UK imports 500,000 tonnes of green glass as wine bottles and consumes in total two and a half million tonnes, of which only about a million tonnes is recycled.

Exploring alternative markets, such as exporting green glass to be used in furnaces overseas in countries such as Spain and Portugal is also a non-starter. As well as the obvious transportation difficulties, these countries have relatively poor collection infrastructures. And this avenue is also limited due to domestic consumption growth in these countries. As it increases, the opportunity for the UK to export becomes increasingly limited.

Dawe says: “Up to 30% non-green glass can be used in the process without affecting it too much. This is an avenue beginning to be explored in France. They are also starting to look at separating and using clear glass for the first time. But the problems we face in the UK are much more acute. We need to find alternative markets here.”

A recent report by the Institution of Civil Engineers suggests that recycling glass using carbon-intensive processes for transportation over long distances and reuse as a low-value construction material produces harmful CO2 emissions.

“We are exploring many possible markets, but with the huge amount of waste created, it will take a lot of time and resources to find an effective solution to this problem,” said Dawe.

The range of possible uses is vast, with recycled glass a very effective filtration media and tests suggesting it performs better than coarse sand. Dawe added: “Glass can be used to make a powder for bricks that has a very low firing temperature. This saves energy and provides a strong brick which is frost-resistant, meaning benefits on both sides.”

But while recycled glass has other possible applications, such as a top dressing on golf courses, for bunkers and for winter sports pitches, its most obvio

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