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GLASS WORKS: North American 2010 Glass Packaging Outlook

The North American glass container industry worked diligently in 2009 to create more recycling awareness and improve recycled glass collection for bottle-to-bottle recycling. The industry helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of raw materials, extend the life of glass manufacturing furnaces, save energy, and meet the industry’s 50% recycled content goal by 2013. In the U.S., 50 glass container manufacturing plants and 74 facilities process glass for recycling.

Doubling the U.S. glass container recycling rate (28% in 2008) would allow manufacturers to use 50% recycled glass or “cullet” to make new glass containers, saving enough energy to power 21,978 homes for one year and removing 181,550 tons of waste from landfills every month.

The goal of using 50% cullet in the manufacture of new glass containers by 2013 was the impetus behind the Glass Packaging Institute’s 2009 Recycle Glass Week.  More than 50 educational activities and public events in 22 states brought in over 20 tons of glass for bottle-to-bottle recycling, built awareness about the environmental benefits of recycling glass containers, and led to permanent collection locations for glass bottles and jars in Colorado and Indiana.

Consumer Preferences

A Newton Marketing Research survey of 750 households conducted in July 2009 found that, of those households that recycle, 82% recycle their glass bottles.  Research also finds that people who recycle are five times more likely to seek products in recyclable packaging. And most consumers (78%) know glass bottles and jars can be recycled back into the same package again and again. It’s clear that Americans want to live greener.

Consumers also increasingly prefer to purchase products from companies that are environmentally responsible and working to reduce their carbon footprint.  Companies and industries that can “close the loop”-or put as much as possible back into the production cycle, reducing raw material use, energy and emissions-are those that will benefit in the long run.  

New Initiatives

All of this is good news for glass, but some of what is recovered at the curb for recycling through single-stream programs, where all recyclables are collected together, can be contaminated and of low quality. To expand beyond the curb and reach the glass industry’s goal of 50% recycled content by 2013, glass container manufacturers are looking to new partnerships and initiatives for recovering more high-quality glass.

A broad expansion of glass recycling at bars, restaurants, hotels, and convention centers is gaining steam in California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, and proving itself to be a key source for clean recycled glass. Legislation that began in 2008 in the state of North Carolina that required all ABC permit holders to recycle their containers brought in an additional 45,000 tons of glass that year.

Hotels also jumped into glass bottle recycling in 2009, and more is expected in 2010. Hotels are finding that once the cardboard, food and glass bottles are recovered, very little is left in their waste stream-with many getting close to zero waste. For example, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and THEhotel recycled nearly 120 tons of glass in 2008 and are on track to almost double that for 2009. The facility also promotes to its guests that they are “Riding the Green Wave.”

In 2010, the glass container industry will intensify its efforts to make U.S. glass container recycling successful. Initiatives include helping to improve curbside recycling programs, expanding drop-off collection, initiating more on-premise recycling, and building on current deposit programs. Creating partnerships and pioneering programs that can generate more and higher-quality recycled glass is key. 

Glass manufacturers’ demand for recycled glass to reduce energy and meet enhanced regulatory standards for air emissions in 2010 and beyond will continue to fuel competition for high-quality cullet and open the door for more innovation in sourcing this valuable commodity.

Any views or opinions in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.

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