Firstly, the UK is a net importer of glass packaging while most countries are net exporters. Secondly, we produce mainly clear glass while European countries produce more green and finally our collection infrastructure is significantly different. Taken together these factors have major implications for UK glass recycling.
The UK produces 1.8 million tonnes of glass packaging each year with a waste stream in 2004 at 2.4m tonnes, set to reach 2.7m tonnes by 2008. As the UK is Europe's highest net importer of glass packaging, there is more glass to be recycled than the UK packaging industry alone can reprocess.
Because they are net exporters, countries like Germany are able to achieve much higher recycling rates than the UK as the recycling rate is a percentage of the waste stream. Germany for example has a glass waste stream of 3.1m tonnes with domestic production of 4.1m tonnes. If UK glass recycling is measured against domestic production only, ie the point of view of producer responsibility, the recycling rate jumps from 37% to 50%.
"Perhaps a more significant issue is the colour split of the glass available for recycling in the UK," says Hartley.
UK production is predominantly clear glass with high exports of clear mainly in the form of filled whisky bottles. There is limited UK green production with high imports of green glass mainly in the form of filled wine bottles. The result - a shortage of clear glass for recycling and more green glass than container makers alone can recycle. As the charts show this is not the case in other countries like Germany where colour splits are more favourable to high recycling rates.
"Finally our approach to collection is different from other countries," continues Hartley, "and more worrying our direction of travel is radically different."
The British Glass analysis shows that across Europe collection is predominantly colour separated, in the UK research carried out for British Glass shows that around 25% of collection is mixed, with this figure likely to continue to grow. Across Europe glass kerbside collection is virtually nonexistent, as over many years these countries have developed high-density colour separated bring systems.
Only the UK and France have significant mixed collection of glass and only the UK has significant kerbside collection. The number of UK glass banks has been static for many years and is half the density of most other EU countries. Some figures even show the number of glass banks in the UK as declining.
Kerbside is an inevitable consequence of the UK's need to catch-up. However, its growth has accelerated a move to mixed glass collections and currently 60% of kerbside collection is mixed.
In some cases local authorities are also mixing the glass from colour separated bring banks. This erosion of colour separation from glass banks has accelerated the growth in mixed beyond all expectations.
The growth of mixed glass exacerbates the UK's colour imbalance putting greater reliance on the development of alternative markets for glass, which in turn have been a driver for more mixed collection. Across Europe alternative markets for glass play a very limited role, in Germany for example they account for 3% of glass recycling while in the UK they are currently