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Recycling must always aim for the gold standard

Rebecca Cocking

The glass industry is truly international. Many of the members of British Glass have factories in Europe. Their products can be found on famous brands that are sold around the globe. The EU is the world’s largest producer of container glass, and the glass container industry in Europe employs 46,000 people.

British Glass is very active within FEVE, the association of European manufacturers of glass containers and machine-made glass tableware. Its members account for 60% of the total glass production in Europe and is spread throughout some 160 plants, including Switzerland and Turkey.

So it came as no surprise when MEP Linda McAvan paid a visit to one of the largest UK glass manufacturing plants operated by British Glass member Ardagh Group. The visit took place in Ardagh’s plant in Barnsley, the location for the very first glass bottle bank way back in 1977.

“We should look at quality of recycling as well as volume when collecting and sorting”

Her interest in visiting the factory originated from a FEVE presentation she attended in her capacity as a member of the European Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee.

It also came as the European glass industry declared its 2009 recycling figures. More than 67% of glass bottles and jars were collected for recycling in Europe. According to FEVE, estimates for 2009 indicate that about 11 million tonnes or 25 billion glass bottles and jars were collected throughout Europe (EU27, Croatia, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). This confirms the steady and positive trend of previous years.

The act of recycling means that glass can make use of the same materials over and over again. This characteristic of glass puts the material at centre stage of the European Commission’s ambitious strategy of making the EU a ‘circular economy’, where recycling is the key factor in waste reduction and where waste is considered a resource.

McAvan is a strong advocate of this approach. She said: “I believe strongly in moves to make Europe more resource efficient. EU directives set out a requirement to increase recycling rates as they will help to reduce demand for primary raw materials, to re-use valuable materials which would otherwise end up as waste and to reduce energy consumption. This is fundamental to build a solid resource-efficient economy”.

These goals can be met only where materials can be re-used in valuable schemes or can be properly recycled in closed loop systems, which are gold standards in the matter. Materials that are ‘down cycled’ for use other than the original one are ejected from the closed loop system and are often ultimately generating waste destined for incineration or landfill.

McAvan heard about UK concerns that an increasing amount of valuable glass cullet is going to roadfill rather than back into making new glass containers: “We should always look at quality of recycling as well as volume when collecting and sorting recyclables.”

Hence the importance of reviewing and improving best practices in collection and treatment of key waste streams, as recently announced by the Commission in its review, Thematic Strategy on Waste Prevention and Recycling, which it hopes will help Europe achieve the long-term goal of being a recycling society.

Rebecca Cocking is recycling manager at British Glass

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