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Feature: Mixed messages

Provisional figures released by industry confederation British Glass show that glass recycling hit record levels in 2005. The amount of recycled glass used in making new containers in the UK increased by an impressive 67,000 tonnes during 2005 to an all-time high of 742,000 tonnes. This means that UK-manufactured bottles and jars contained an average of 35.5% of recycled glass.

British Glass experts calculate that an additional 250,000 tonnes of recycled glass were exported to other EU container makers, and that alternative markets such as aggregates consumed 280,000 tonnes of glass.

So the overall amount of glass recycled in the UK in 2005 as calculated by British Glass was 1,272,000 tonnes or 50.8% of the waste stream. These figures cannot be confirmed until the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) releases its official 2005 recycling figures in the spring, and it is possible these figures could reveal a higher glass recycling rate.

The fact that packaging recovery note prices have been soft make this an even more impressive performance. But maintaining such impressive progress is going to be tough.

To meet the recycling target of 60% by 2008 imposed by the EU’s Packaging & Packaging Waste Directive, glass recycling faces some significant obstacles. To meet this target, the UK needs to continue to expand glass recycling by around 160,000 tonnes a year until 2008. This means glass collections from UK households need to almost double from 27kg per household in 2003/04 to 50kg by 2007/08*.

However, the ability of the industry to achieve these higher levels is compromised by three factors that make the UK glass recycling market unique. First, the UK is a net importer of glass packaging while most other major European countries are net exporters. Second, we manufacture mainly clear glass while most European countries make much more green. Third, our collection infrastructure is significantly different.

Defra’s Municipal Waste Report 2002/03 shows that 19.7% of glass is collected at kerbside and this fuelled an astonishing increase in mixed glass collection to 30% of UK collection in 2003. This trend is set to continue. The growth of mixed glass accelerates the UK’s colour imbalance. When mixed glass is colour separated, three tonnes of extra green arise for every tonne of additional clear.

The container sector could absorb much higher tonnages of glass, but such growth can only come from greater tonnages of clear and brown glass. The expansion of existing markets and the development of higher value alternative markets is therefore a crucial aspect of continued UK growth. Above the 310,000 tonnes of green glass currently recycled by the container sector each year, alternative markets are needed.

The container glass sector has been trying to find ways to promote the use of clear glass packaging for imports, most notably in the wine industry. Moves such as the Courtauld Commitment – a top-level agreement between the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and 13 top grocery retailers, which have expressed their commitment to helping WRAP reduce the amount of packaging and food waste – are significant.

Persuading brand owners and retailers to import wine in clear bottles will help to redress the UK’s colour imbalance. In addition, reducing the weight of glass packaging, known as ‘lightweighting’, could also cut the amount of glass entering th

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