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A clearer view of glass recycling in the UK

According to the Local Government Association, the UK has fewer than eight years of landfill space left. So why are we not recycling more glass? We are now recycling more in the UK than ever before, but we still have a long way to go and there are still many areas that need to be improved on.

Bottles and jars have been recycled by UK consumers for decades and are probably one of the most recognised materials for recyclability. With glass, what you see is what you get - there is no confusion regarding material grades or types. The first bottle banks were introduced in 1977, and the glass container sector has been using recycled glass in its feedstock since glass was first manufactured.

So why are a million tonnes of post-consumer container glass being sent to landfill? Can it really be so hard to develop an effective UK waste collection infrastructure? Or have policymakers made a rod for our backs by allowing a multitude of collection methods, meaning that we are unable to promote a consistent message to consumers nationally?

Of the 1.6 million tonnes of glass recycled in the UK in 2009, the UK containersector was able to purchase only 640,000 tonnes of usable material. Although this represents an effective recycling rate of 40%, the industry is easily capable of achieving double this figure.

Other end markets exist that can consume poorer quality cullet and, unfortunately for the container sector,aggregates require less processing and are more economical to produce. Many believe that aggregates are the answer to higher recycling rates. But I personally consider glass as an aggregate to be an easy option and simply a good way to meet targets.

So what is the UK container glass sector doing to remedy the situation?

Reducing waste - Lightweighting ofcontainers has been taking place for many decades, but with assistance from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the work accelerated considerably in recent years. Many UK-produced wine, spiritand beer bottles weigh a third less than they did. Lighter weights mean lower obligations for those obligated under the packaging regulations and less weight for local authorities to collect for recycling.

Reuse - The UK glass industry still produces returnable bottles for the dairy and soft drink sectors. Although there has been a decline in some of these sectors in recent years, the option is still available and works extremely well in Scotland for the Irn-Bru brand, for example.

Recycle - If good-quality cullet was made available for container manufacture, the sector could increase it recycling rate and improve the recycled content of the containers it makes. This would assist those in the supply chain that are looking to increase recycled content to meet WRAPs Courtauld Commitment II.

Communications - In 2009, Friends of Glass was launched across Europe. It is a web-based platform aimed at consumers to educate them about the benefits of glass and recycling. Visit www.friendsofglass.com.

These initiatives will continue through 2010.

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